The Words that Changed You

I ask students to write about the book, poem, movie, or song that changed them. Then, they choose one word that defines what major theme in the humanities that this work of art addresses.

As we make a list on the board, I realize that the enduring themes of feeling interconnected to people, friendship, forgiveness, hope, perseverance, empathy, suffering, and love cry out from our hearts all day long. We carry around stories that shaped us because they made us understand something, changed our perspective, or connected us to something we knew was true and right and good.

We’re actually thinking about these things, and when given the chance, students love discussing these very words that make life meaningful to them. They unload the poems and books and song lyrics that formed them. They recount movie scenes that set them on a new path. We talk about such a range of art: Shawshank Redemption, Hotel Rwanda, T.S. Eliot, Tolkien, Life is Beautiful, The Book of Eli, the Bible, The Alchemist, the music of Billy Joel, or even Pet Cemetery. We talk about lessons from the Godfather and The Giver.

Words are working on us, all the time. They cry out, and we cry back. And now, we enter into the conversation ourselves. We write a story for others, from our own lives, that shapes how we understand what it means to be human. They’ll cry out, and we’ll cry back.

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