Below are seven glimpses of what Deep Springs has meant to recent students. The diversity of insights and styles gives a look at the varied individual experiences of Deep Springs College.
Jesus Munoz (DS15)
My time at Deep Springs College was a transforming experience. There is something unique about this place: it’s where I learned the powerful value of higher education. I went to an inner-city public high school, and I thought that a college education was only worth pursuing for its practical value. At Deep Springs, I realized that a higher education means more than a mere degree: it is a journey of self-discovery that leads to a meaningful life. This journey, however, is not easy. The three pedagogical pillars at Deep Springs (academics, self-governance, and labor) taught me that scholarly knowledge is not enough for a wholesome education.
There is something special about Deep Springs: its tight-knit community provides strong support for students. Indeed, this place is challenging, but the community reaches out to students and helps them get through difficult times. I made meaningful relationships with many people in the community, and some of them had an influential impact in my personal and intellectual life. I am double majoring in politics and philosophy at Pomona College, and I can confidently say that my Deep Springs education gave a new meaning to my studies, one that teaches me to find joy in learning, even in times of adversity.
Izzy Pisarsky (DS18)
I have an hour and thirteen minutes to complete my short story for Sarah’s class. I’m trying to justify the details, so that they don’t only pertain to Deep Springs. Why do all my characters’ jackets have chicken blood on them? Why do they roll their cigarettes with bible paper? Why do they use Robert’s Rules to decide on which snack to buy? Seven minutes before the deadline I give up masking my solipsism and close my computer.
I have labor and not eaten lunch yet, so I run into the boarding house and grab a still-warm tamale from the leftover fridge. I commend our BH crew who chose to wash dishes to Taylor Swift’s “Red” on repeat—it’s One Song Wednesday.
On farm team, we have spent the last week driving out to one of the fields, trying to battle the Russian thistle. It’s not the sexiest labor (climbing into the dump truck, trying to stomp down the thistle and, instead, sinking knee-deep into the prickles) but it has to be done. We want to regrow native grass to outcompete the tumbleweed. When we finish forking up the thistle that we heaped up like massive funeral pyres, Gabriel, our farm manager, asks us for one more thing. We climb over the dormant irrigation lines into the field. Squatting down in the middle of it, he makes us take off our gloves. With his hands in the soil, he tells us about the energy that the earth gives us, how we shouldn’t forget to come out here during finals, how this is where we are from and where we’ll go to. He lets us put our faces into the grass, and breathe in the musty cool smell. His dogs try to lick our necks as we lie there.
On our way back, we all sit in the back of Gabriel’s truck, dirt on our cheeks. I smile at the sun that sends out its last rays from behind the Sierra, and I remember that I love this valley. But then, I also remember that I forgot to call my parents, yet again. That I meant to take the pictures for our next Deep Springs calendar but now the sun is gone. That I forgot to compile the Euro trash playlist for our end-of-term boogie and still wanted to make cookies for the application grading labor party tonight.
Aadit Narula Gupta (DS17)
It’s difficult to write about Deep Springs in a way that’s intelligible to prospective applicants comparing great schools, because the College defies a conventional vocabulary. Deep Springs isn’t trying to be compared to any other institution, and as an experience for its students, it occupies a category of its own.
The desert valley in which we live is core to life here. It is barren, rugged, and remote. Bishop, the nearest town of consequential size, is an hour’s drive away over a mountain pass. Our remoteness promotes a serious and deliberate self-reliance: students here spend 20 hours per week cooking meals, cleaning toilets, butchering, building, farming and ranching. They consciously choose to spend two years attending seminar classes or give public speeches with little time in between labor and academic work to wash off collected dirt or dried animal blood. Modern city living can seem planets away, and residents’ sincere commitments to Deep Springs as a living project stems largely from this fact. Students forgo drugs and alcohol, and often stay in the Valley over breaks to take care of the cattle instead of going home—building a tangible connection to the environment and space around them, and to the people they come to rely upon.
The Student Body’s (SB’s) policy of self-enforced isolation makes for a truly unique student life. Living at Deep Springs can at times look—from the outside—like a fictionalized pastoral ideal. The vast, empty expanse in which we live inspires a sense of loneliness and pressure to introspect, but also a profound sense of community and mutual reliance. Because the school attracts students who are intellectually engaged and purpose-driven both inside and outside of the classroom, the ample opportunities to be lonely here inspire reflection, and not necessarily hardship. Our camaraderie is strong and genuine.
Deep Springs offers a rigorous and top-tier liberal arts curriculum—not too dissimilar from those offered by other elite schools across the US—but students here experience it in the context of a compact intellectual village, where, because we number only thirty, interpersonal relationships tend to be close and deep. The student body’s small size and diversity of scholarly focus makes for an intense dialectical culture. Much of our academic discussions happen in our free time, and the SB as a group often engages important moral and philosophical questions as we jointly exercise self-governance.
Our model of self-governance makes this community a rare example of direct democracy in practice. In students’ capacity as beneficial owners of the school and its property, we make wide-ranging and impactful decisions about the way we live and what we do with our resources; decisions which can range as widely as the selection of faculty, offered courses, and new students, to the maintenance of the ground rules and the allocation of funds for building projects.
I’d describe my personal experience of Deep Springs as at once life-changing, severe, and yet, at times, even blissful or relaxing. After six-hour cattle drives in the baking heat, or successive nights of little sleep with papers to write and applicants’ essays to read, I find that focusing on anything but the need to keep on keeping on can be difficult. But, I will say—believing it wholeheartedly—that life is only satisfying when it’s lived with direction, and against exceptional challenges. Of course, it certainly helps when you have the chance to wake up every morning to one of the most arrestingly beautiful views on the planet; when you eat better than you have ever done in your life (and perhaps ever will); and when there are calves to pet on demand. That is life at Deep Springs.
Tanner Loper (DS17)
I grew up traveling all around the world with the military, but I like to say that Virginia is my home. Coming to Deep Springs from a high school system that emphasized and epitomized a STEM education presented its challenges. It was difficult to get the hang of seminar-style classes at first. It didn’t take long, however, for me to start to discover my voice both inside and outside of the classroom. I also find myself increasingly involved in the daily cooperative quest for philosophical discovery (a bit pretentious?).
I worked part-time jobs since tenth grade, but the labor program has provided me with new and meaningful challenges. These have ranged from baking bread for the community to getting bulls back in their pens. The self-governance program has taught me about what it means to live cooperatively and considerately in a diverse political community.
Most of all, though, I think I’ll cherish my years here for two reasons: Friends and Growth. I have had time to get to know some of the kindest, most thoughtful people I’ve ever met. They have made the good times great and the bad times easier to get through. On bad times, Deep Springs has given me some of the most personally challenging days and weeks of my life, but I find I come out of each one a little stronger and a little better prepared for whatever comes next.
Robert Gunn (DS16)
My experiences at Deep Springs have proven to modulate something that I already knew before coming here—that there really isn’t the time to do and learn anything and everything that I’d like to, be it in a day, a week, or a lifetime. But rather than just augment that truism, these experiences have added a few more fugal voices to create a harmony that is ultimately both romantic and frustrating.
I usually have an urge to learn and read about anything I can get my hands on, yet here and now, more than at most points in the past, in a place dedicated to intense thought, I feel the time constraints that show time efficiency’s limitations. Beyond that limit, a value judgment comes in: what will I prioritize with what time I do have. In few other areas of life here do I feel that more than with academics.
Academics at Deep Springs provide opportunities that are difficult to find in virtually any other circumstance. Small classes of five to ten others whom I know and engage with individually day-in-and-out in labor, self-governance, and social spaces, and who actually do the readings assigned to them and have things to say about it, are not easy to find elsewhere.
I find seminar spaces can be a grind at times—here comes the cheesy comparison to fugues once more—a room with that many voices can be difficult to synchronize and keep together without central organization, but those moments when we learn to think of the whole before ourselves such that the dialogue between voices is put above the virtue of any individual voice—when the individuals melt into something larger—are the moments that not only make up for the occasional grind, but point to the beauty of much of what there is to learn here. Much of DS is an odd balance of autonomy and self-sacrifice for something that’s tangible on one level but elusive and mysterious on another. Even when I don’t have as much time to do all the things I’d like to, I do have time to help create a beautiful conversation in class. Whether that be excitedly speculating on the decision procedures within various ant species in Eusociality, deciphering the aphoristic propositions of Wittgenstein, or battling over whether the concept of judicial review should be given as much weight as it does in American political institutions and thought during Constitutional Law, those moments of questioning can be powerful.
Sometimes class discussions can fall short, but unlike most educational institutions, it feels that far more of the onus is on every single person that steps into that room twice a week for 90-minutes to create something outside of themselves. My past lifetime experiences in classrooms have ranged between redefining a part of my sense of the world on the positive end and making me hate learning on the negative, but the project at Deep Springs asks me to do something else. It asks me to think about the grade I will be receiving second and to think about the ideas being floated, challenged and built around first—to love the pursuit not as a solitary venture, but as a joint venture with equals.
Michael Leger (DS16)
“Farm” was first described to me as a heroic labour position at Deep Springs. Running through fields of alfalfa with a hammer in hand, banging on pipes and clamps of metal until they meet your will, and occasionally, (or not so occasionally) yelling into the sky or at the irrigation lines whenever they resist compliance. On some days this romantic ideal of what “farm” is aligns with reality. On these days I wake up at 5:30am primed to run, work hard, and release energy. Some days there are coyotes in the fields rummaging for food, and when they howl or look at me, I howl back at them. On these days I might even look out and appreciate the beautiful landscape—the valley cast in pink light as the sun peeks over the mountains.
But other days—most days, in fact—the romantic ideal of “farm” is nowhere to be found. This is when I inadvertently sleep in a little too late, when my other farm-teamers forget to check on me and wake me up, and when I’m left to start labour late and am already a little too frustrated. Too many times on these days I neglect the smaller duties of farm—such as fixing a line that’s not as straight as it could be—because I’m feeling lazy or in a rush, or want to finish my readings for class, only to find out that over time that small problem has developed into a far greater one. I’m then in a position of having to ask my fellow farm-teamers to help me out for an extra few hours midday in the sweltering heat to re-build a whole line. This has happened many times, and it is frustrating.
Over the past term, I’ve been mad at myself for taking shortcuts out of laziness, and also frustrated with other farm-teamers for various reasons, some more justifiable than others. Quite honestly, I don’t know what else other than my experience on farm team has been able to make me so immediately frustrated. It’s almost impressive. I’ve often found myself standing in the middle of the field, impatient with a dysfunctional motor, blaming my frustration on anything other than my own actions.
But actually, reflecting on how I treat myself in these circumstances—wondering whether I should fix a particular sprinkler in the moment, or later, reflecting on how I communicate with other farm-teamers when I’m in a good mood or a bad mood—has proved to be a challenging and fulfilling experience full of self-reflection. Although there is a certain peace and ease when everything is going well, when my experience meets the expectation of the heroic, I’ve found that there is actually a more intriguing experience to be had when nothing works as planned. Perhaps the best moments arise when everything is broken and you’re forced to reckon with yourself and your peers.
Jonathan Zisk (DS16)
Over Term 1-2 break, seven intrepid Deep Springers set off together to explore the Sierra Nevada Mountains—the very peaks we had gazed at every day beyond the crest of our valley during Term One. For all of us, it was an opportunity to elucidate our thoughts on the last term, and build upon our evolving friendships.
Heading out from South Lake, we first noticed the crisp air and forests of lodgepole pines. Everything was green and full of life; water trickled from snowfields and glaciers to fill deep, aquamarine alpine lakes, surrounded by soft beds of moss and granite slabs perfect for camping.
The thin atmosphere up high opened our lungs and frosted the tips of our sleeping bags at night, but more importantly, it cleared our minds. After a busy Term One and Summer Seminar at the college, there was nothing better than waking up—while the sun pierced through the gaps in craggy peaks—to jump into a frigid lake, shocking our bodies as we witnessed each beautiful Sierra morning. Throughout the trip, we hiked through Inyo National Forest and Kings Canyon National Park. We climbed down into canyons, up over boulder-strewn passes, and summited the nearly 14,000’ Mt. Agassiz.
But the most memorable moments of the trip were hidden in our down time: reading, exploring, debating, and enjoying each other’s company amidst towering white cathedrals. In the evenings we made simple meals together, and witnessed the transient moment when the tallest mountains are crowned with rosy alpenglow.
On our final morning, after we reluctantly turned back to meet our ride, we passed back through the scree fields and below the tree line. There, where the mountains nurture rich forest floors, the cold nights had infused the hollow with the first smell of fall, and with it, the first thought of Term Two.