My Favorite Class at Swarthmore College

In my freshman fall semester, I took the most riveting course of my life, Arts of the Ancient Americas. Not only was it fun, informative, and challenging, but it was the first class I had ever taken that bled into my life, challenged the way I saw the world, and imbued in me a new sight.

Burdette _2016
Professor Burdette

The class was offered by Derek Burdette, a vibrant man and the most interesting and passionate professor I had ever met. The amount of knowledge that he imparted on us was unprecedented. This was an art history class, but upon leaving, I was well-versed in the religious beliefs of the ancient Americans, I had a good understanding of political ideology in the region, and I knew how the politics of daily life could be seen through the architecture of various superstructures.

The Met

At the end of the semester, I experienced a moment of transcendent power—the moment when knowledge gained becomes life lived. I remember walking around the Met in New York, enjoying the new sight that Professor Burdette had given me. Suddenly, I stumbled on a painting that I had never seen before, but somehow struck me as being familiar.

“I know this place,” I thought.

As I pondered the detailed painting of the Andes, a tour group passed by me. The guide presented the painting, and then asked who knew what type of bird sat perched in the foreground. The large group of people looked at each other with amused cluelessness. I raised my hand, telling the group that it was in fact a quetzal. The crowd was surprised that I knew the species of bird, but I was not, because I had taken a class with my favorite educator at my favorite school, Swarthmore College.

The Heart of the Andes – Frederic Church

Can you find the quetzal?





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