Returning to Trent: Looking Back With Michael Bruder ’02

“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more' ... Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.'" -Friedrich Nietzsche

The philosopher Nietzsche prompts us to ask ourselves: if our lives were to be repeated over and over again infinitely, would we recoil in horror at that fact, or joyously affirm it? This is often referred to as his theory of eternal return. As I understand him, Nietzsche was more interested in the psychological impact of this possibility than its actual likelihood.  I think for most of us, we would like to be able to pick and choose which parts to affirm as worthy of infinite repetition.  For my part, I would confidently affirm as worthy of repetition my time as a Philosophy undergraduate at Trent University, which is why I was so excited when I was given the opportunity to return to Trent as a course instructor.

I came to Trent as an undergrad in 1998 from the small, southern Ontario town of Fergus.  I was the first to arrive at Champlain College on first-years' move-in day and there were so many volunteers waiting to help that I, fortunately, had to carry only my guitar up the four flights of stairs to my new home. That first impression of Trent as composed of a community of people supporting each other has remained at the core of my concept of what Trent is and this has only been reinforced in the many years that have since passed.  After those halcyon days as an undergrad, I went on to pursue higher degrees in Philosophy at other schools but when it came time for my wife and I to choose a venue for our wedding, we returned to the place where we met.  We were married on the banks of the Otonabee (Champlain side) in a very private ceremony in 2013.

After a period working in private education, I applied myself to my dream career of being a Philosophy Instructor.  I was hired to a temporary position at Pennsylvania State University, and this seemed an incredible stroke of luck given the extremely competitive academic job market.  However, this fortunate turn was followed by an even greater one: I was hired to teach for a term at Trent.  Throughout my higher education, when people learned that I wanted to be a professor they would ask where I would like to teach.  My answer never varied, I would tell them that I would love to teach at a school like Trent.  I wanted to teach at a school that values student-teacher interaction, has low student-teacher ratios, and fosters a sense of community.  I would offer Trent as my example of these values.  I never dreamt that I would be given this opportunity, not just at a school like Trent, but at Trent itself.

I was first hired in 2014 to teach at the Durham (formerly Oshawa) campus but visited the Peterborough campus to meet with the new Department Head before the Fall term started.  It was lovely to be on campus in the summer with the lush greens of the drumlin and a breeze blowing off of the river.  As I traversed Lady Eaton College, on my way to the Philosophy departmental office (exactly where I left it), the cozy covered walkways immediately evoked those first tentative steps toward this career path.

I discovered that the current faculty was about an even split of new faces and people that I had admired and studied under as an undergraduate.   Since graduating from Trent I had often wondered how the department was faring and I was very pleased to learn that it had not only survived in our age of decreased emphasis on the humanities, but was thriving and playing an increased role in the larger university environment at Trent.  The Philosophy department is now home to the Kenneth Mark Drain Chair in Ethics (the first endowed chair at Trent), has had two of its members recently serve as a Dean of Arts and Sciences - Humanities, and the University president, Leo Groarke, is even a philosopher!  One of the most notable areas of Trent's growth for me was the Durham campus and here too Philosophy is keeping pace with the development of the University.  Durham students can now earn a general degree in Philosophy while the option for an honours degree is being developed.  The most recent term saw the first event hosted on the Durham campus by the Trent Philosophy Society (one of Trent’s oldest student organizations and my main social group as an undergrad).

After that Fall term at Durham, my next visit to Symons campus would be in January 2015 when I was teaching in Peterborough for the winter term.  The biting walk across the bridge over the Otonabee in the winter provided a stark contrast to my summer visit but was no less familiar.  My class’ workshop was in the new Gzowski College and I noticed how students would gather and enjoy each other's company in all the available spaces as my compatriots and I would gather in the nooks of Traill and the great Hall of Champlain.  It will be a great boon to campus life to have the new student centre, expected to open in September of 2017.

As Trent's presence grows, metaphorically and physically, I feel assured that the spirit of Trent that made such an impact on me as a student is being preserved.  I have been asked to return, term after term, for two years so far and I hope to continue this recurrence into the future for as long as possible. I like to think of myself as helping to provide a new generation of Trent undergraduates with an academic experience that will inspire a positive mental (if not professional or metaphysical) return to Trent.

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