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Sylvia Woodbury

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Bio

I am somebody who is in love with life. Each experience is rich and rewarding, whether it's simply a moment of relaxation or an ordeal that exemplifies my determination and drive. I am a Freshman at Hamilton College planning to major in English with a possible minor in French or Art History. Both analytical and creative writing engage me, and I am creative, meticulous, and hard-working; I currently have a cumulative GPA of 4.0. I am also a staff writer at Hamilton’s student life and culture magazine, The Continental, as well as at its school newspaper. Through working at Starbucks throughout 2022 - 2023, I gained valuable customer service and leadership experience. Working as a barista, cashier, and cleaner, I served hundreds of customers per day and received Employee of the Quarter. In June 2023, my article was selected as a one of 11 winners — out of 12,500 applicants — of the New York Times Student Editorial Contest. I also earned a gold medal for poetry in the Scholastic Art and Writing awards in the summer of 2022. I put my all into my pursuits and passions, and am motivated by learning, discovery, and experience. I love gothic literature, classical epics, plays, and philosophy, and both ancient and modern art.

Education

Hamilton College

Bachelor's degree program
2023 - 2027
  • Majors:
    • English Language and Literature, General
  • Minors:
    • Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics, Other

Sharon High

High School
2018 - 2022

Miscellaneous

  • Desired degree level:

    Doctoral degree program (PhD, MD, JD, etc.)

  • Graduate schools of interest:

  • Transfer schools of interest:

  • Majors of interest:

    • English Language and Literature, General
    • Anthropology
    • Romance Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics, General
  • Not planning to go to medical school
  • Career

    • Dream career field:

      Writing and Editing

    • Dream career goals:

      Author

    • Digital Scholarship Intern

      Hamilton College
      2024 – Present7 months
    • General Caretaking, Cleaning, Customer Service

      Sharonview Nursery
      2021 – 2021
    • Barista

      Starbucks
      2022 – 20231 year

    Sports

    Track & Field

    Junior Varsity
    2018 – 20224 years

    Arts

    • Present

    Public services

    • Advocacy

      School Club (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) — Club Member
      2018 – 2022
    • Advocacy

      School Club (Girls Learn International) — Club President
      2019 – 2022

    Future Interests

    Advocacy

    Volunteering

    Philanthropy

    RonranGlee Literary Scholarship
    Conquering Himself: Stoicism in "The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius" The word “stoic” conjures a plethora of associations: toughness, grit, resistance to pain, the ability to weather sundry misfortunes with grim determination. Yet the etymology of the word traces back to ancient Greece, and referenced nothing so much as the portico from which Zeno, the originator of the ancient philosophy of stoicism, delivered his teachings. Still, the word has not departed far from its original connotations. The stoics purported to be a self-possessed lot; according to stoic philosophy, the inner state of man should be utterly composed, unruffled by the passions of sex, fame or wealth, undisturbed by any adversity outside direct control, and accepting of the will of fate and the gods. Stoicism often appears contradictory — deterministic, yet predicated on self-conduct; exalting focused interiority, yet responsive to the whole of humanity and its network of connections; advising self-effacing virtue, yet fostering a dialogue of supremacy. These are also the contradictions of appointed power — the contradictions of an emperor. Marcus Aurelius is notable as a philosopher-king (an idea introduced by Plato) and the last of the five Good Emperors. In "The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius", one of the pivotal texts of stoicism, the contradictions of the philosophy are accommodated not through coherence, but through the subtle admission of stoicism as aspiration rather than reality. The text originally functioned, in essence, as a personal journal; the title, in Ancient Greek, is "To Himself". In light of this self-reference, "The Meditations" can be read as a diaristic form of reconciliation with the intricacies of his position. It is no coincidence that Marcus was drawn to stoicism upon becoming ruler of the vast Roman empire in 161 A.D. He coupled his ascendance to the throne with a moral ascendance as well. The fourth passage of "Meditations"’ third chapter most clearly delineates the difficult exigencies — and tense beauty — of stoic philosophy as cultivated within the dualisms of a ruler. Like most of the journal, the passage is a reminder of what good conduct looks like. Marcus writes that the mark of a virtuous man is clarity of thought, fruited with neither frivolity nor ungenerous judgements of others. “Such a man,” he continues, “is priest and servant to the gods, he has the right relationship with the spirit established within him, which makes him a man uncorrupted by pleasure, unwounded by pain, untouched by violence” (Marcus Aurelius, 3.4.2). Stoicism proposes an infinite whole, a “universal harmony” from which each man’s intellectual part is derived. This animating force, the ability to exercise good judgment and conscious virtue, is “established,” an inherent, permanent institution. To be in harmony with this inner spirit is to be so at peace with oneself that man becomes his own sanctuary. Throughout the text, Marcus asserts that since man is mind, and mind cannot be harmed, then man possesses the possibility of utter self-control, remaining “uncorrupted,” “unwounded,” and “untouched” by any exterior pain or passion. It is also telling that Marcus contends that the self-possessed man is both “priest and servant” to the gods. Each role refines the other: the spiritual authority of the priest is tempered by the humility of the servant. Both are positions compelled by duty. The balance between priest and servant, between power and deference, should be incarnated in a man, and especially in an emperor. The meaning of man is his intrinsic capability. Might this also be the meaning of emperor? Throughout the passage, Marcus implicitly considers his elevation as a ruler, the moral necessities of the position, and the existential difficulties the role reveals. He writes that the “prize” of the virtuous man is “not to be overcome by any passion, to be deeply steeped in justice; to welcome one’s lot and portion with one’s whole soul” (3.4.2). Passions overcome and overthrow; this language is one of exteriority. Passions are an upheaval of man’s natural state, a disordering, the extinction of rationality and thus of self. Justice, however, fills him. He is soaked in and colored with it. The phrase in Ancient Greek also suggests justice as being deeply-rooted or embedded, inherent in man, an exercise of his natural qualities. Yet Marcus writes that these results of virtue are a “prize.” In Ancient Greek, the phrase highlights that such a man is a “great athlete,” a winner of contests. The act of striving is encoded with the language of supremacy, though Marcus admonishes against desire for reputation and external glory. Through the use of the word “prize,” and the comparison of a virtuous man to “great athlete,” Marcus subtly admits his own dependency on the intellectual strictures of kingship and the language of ascension, limning the passage with a tense irony. He must become uncorrupted by appetite in order to sate it; he must let go of want to fulfill it. Stoicism, which defines man as separate from animals due to his intellectual self-command, seems implicitly at odds with what man can’t help but be — an agent of desire. In the following clause, Marcus reveals himself further. The prize of virtue is also “rarely, and then only when the common good makes it imperative, to imagine what another may be saying, doing, or thinking” (3.4.2). Morality should be self-contained, uninfluenced by the whims of the masses, lest it be capricious. To be disengaged from the turmoil of popular opinion must have seemed an enormous relief to an emperor whose responsibility was, at least theoretically, to shepherd his people. As emperor, Marcus had to preside over “the common good,” enacting it through his own sense of virtue. He repeats, like a mantra, the precept that man should not be unduly influenced by others, writing, "He also keeps in mind that all that is endowed with Reason is akin, and that while it is in accordance with man’s nature to care for all men, he must not be swayed by the opinion of all men, but only by that of those who live in agreement with nature. As for those who do not live in such agreement, he will have it in mind always what kind of men they are at home and abroad, by night and by day, and what tainted company they keep. Praise from such men he will think of no account, for they are not content even with themselves" (3.4.3). Stoicism is occupied with the conduct of the individual, but it is not, at its heart, an individualistic ideology. Men, Marcus insists, are kin, because reason is immutable, and so indivisible. We are all lit by the same flame. The passage is a reminder of Marcus’ connection to his populace, and the necessity of his separation from them. Marcus’ writing itself is straightforwardly authoritative, yet imbued with a rhythmic beauty that hones in on repetitions, parallels, contrasts and counterparts. The doubled meaning of “all men” suggests an ingroup whose natural bonds are both a source of tenderness and dangerous influence. Until the mercurial man is governed by the order, reason, and balance — man’s nature, and the nature of the universe — he will be discontent, no matter the external conditions, “at home and abroad, by night and day.” According to stoicism the world, like the excerpt itself, is composed of corresponding, ordered patterns. Man cannot design the natural principles of his world, but he can choose whether or not to adhere to them. Fate and free will are tied irrevocably together in emperorship, a duty Marcus did not initially choose but, guided by stoicism, tried to fulfill. Stoicism is often rigid, but it is also a doctrine of transformation — not mutability, but uncompromising reformation of the self. In stoic philosophy, the realization of inherent capability converts aimlessness into purpose. Marcus writes, “It is only with what is part of himself that a man can act, and only his own fate, assigned to him from the whole of Nature, which he can at all times reflect upon” (3.4.3). Since the function of man is to think and act consciously, action is nothing but the translation of the interior self into the exterior self. As emperor, Marcus witnessed his efforts succeed or fail on a terrible, terrifying scale. To exert dominion over one’s own mind, rather than over an empire, is an infinitely simpler process, which can then expand outward, echoing in all things, large or small. Marcus continues, “his actions he makes beautiful; his fate, he is convinced, is good, for every man carries his appointed fate with him, and it carries him along” (3.4.3). An action is beautiful when it flows from within, aligning with nature. The text equates harmony with duty, honing in on the simplicity of virtue, as if a prayer for ease. Yet the insistence that only the self can manifest happiness is an acknowledgement of responsibility, and a quest to conflate sweetness with burden. The philosophy that contentment is actualized by virtue, and virtue is the natural state of man, must have been both pragmatic and appealing for a ruler contending with the moral quandaries of empire. To become a better ruler and happier man, Marcus only had to turn to within. According to "Meditations", the ruler must first be ruler of himself, possessing total control over his own mind. Was Marcus ultimately successful? Surely not. He occupied a difficult position, one beset by plague, war, and complex administrative decisions. Perfect embodiment of principle is a Herculean task. Stoicism required ascension without ambition; self-realization without judgment of others; the exercise of pure virtue divorced from externalities and without expectation of reward. Yet, through "Meditations", we find that the philosophy somehow manages to encompass these paradoxes. We discover that meaning itself isn’t a solvable question but a self-interrogation, a will to internal betterment. Within "Meditations", the manifestation of virtue is not a finite process, but continues throughout the life of man; he acts as a live wire conducting his own essence, and thus always possesses his own happiness. For Marcus, stoicism seems to have been a functional reconciliation between duty and happiness, sovereignty and inner equanimity. At its core, "Meditations" presents an individual man’s internal conference about what we are, and what it reveals about who we can be. Selected Passage: “Such a man no longer puts off joining the company of the best; he is priest and servant to the gods, he has the right relationship with the spirit established within him, which makes him a man uncorrupted by pleasure, unwounded by pain, untouched by violence, immune to evil and a contender for the greatest prize, which is: not to be overcome by any passion, to be deeply steeped in justice; to welcome one’s lot and portion with one’s whole soul; rarely, and then only when the common good makes it imperative, to imagine what another may be saying, doing, or thinking. It is only with what is part of himself that a man can act, and only his own fate, assigned to him from the whole of Nature, which he can at all times reflect upon; his actions he makes beautiful; his fate, he is convinced, is good, for every man carries his appointed fate with him, and it carries him along. He also keeps in mind that all that is endowed with Reason is akin, and that while it is in accordance with man’s nature to care for all men, he must not be swayed by the opinion of all men, but only by that of those who live in agreement with nature. As for those who do not live in such agreement, he will have it in mind always what kind of men they are at home and abroad, by night and by day, and what tainted company they keep. Praise from such men he will think of no account, for they are not content even with themselves.” - "The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius" translated by G. M. A. Grube, excerpt from Chapter 3, Part 4, Sections 2 - 3
    "Wise Words" Scholarship
    “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver writes in her 1990 poem 'The Summer Day'. At first, when reading this, the question was uncomfortable — what would I do, and how? I looked to her for example; if anybody would have a good idea of how to spend one’s life, it would be Mary Oliver. In the picture I am thinking of, she is looking away from us, with her sweater and her rough jacket and her freckly little face filled with good humor and knowledge. If anyone would know how, exactly, one makes a life wild and precious, what, exactly, one should do, it would be her; her poems give us a clue. Surely, as she was brambling through the woods, sipping nectar, stuffing blackberries, composing long verses in the hot sand, she found something: something bright and new-coppery as a penny that told of the precious days ahead. In another picture, Mary feeds a bird: only her hands are visible and are eclipsed by the spoon and the little puff on her finger. Here is her small life, her wild life, her precious life. As I read her poems, I came to discover that wild and precious are synonyms of happiness. Surely, then, I have already lived? To come to some sort of conclusion, my present, my past; they already are and have been wild, and so treasured. I have no reason to believe that I, with a body and a mind, could not do anything with the love and memory I have amassed: Two days ago, the loveliest miso soup, filled with cubes of tofu, with my mom and my brother in the sunshine. My mother made friends with the server. We talked and laughed. We ate. A year ago, teething a mountain, jagged with high-altitude trees. The big valley like a sleeper below. The sweet plum curls of woodsmoke. The eyes of people I love in the darkness. Childhood. A jumble of children on the hammock, playing pirates. Dirt and grass stains. Skinned knees in fire-engine red. This coming October. Sitting with my friends at a bonfire, feasting on sugar, joining the memories of little children dressed as pumpkins and bees and round soft things. This coming year, graduate, continue my life, wherever it takes me. Mary Oliver proposes inevitability. It is not a question so much as a request to look back at your life and understand that you already have the blueprint for a happy future, to appreciate the simple things. So, it may not exactly be a question, but there is an answer: to throw open your arms and say: This. This. This.