Rebecca and Quinn Bryant

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
— Socrates

I like to take things apart. My husband, Quinn, likes to put them together.

We met and married after high school, and decided together to come to Gunnison. At Western, we found a place that complements our unique relationship.

Getting married reminded us of our high school graduations. We were suddenly adults, fodder for trial by fire. But when we arrived at Western in 2011, people accepted us as we were: two people attempting to navigate life’s chaos.

Luckily, there’s not just one way to live, and there’s no right way to tackle your future. Quinn and I began college at the same time but came from different perspectives. We met at high school band camp. I suppose you could say we had a mutual attraction to discord. When I was asked to write about how we ended up at Western, I found no single answer could describe our unusual circumstances.

Both of us credit our remarkable success at Western to a unique mix of opportunity and desperation. We found a supportive environment that allowed us to build around what excited us, rather than shoehorning us into uncomfortable disciplines with the tepid prospects of careers that might not be relevant to our future.

Differing Perspectives Converge

For me, college was inevitable. For Quinn it was kind of a reach: likely to happen if he won the lottery or accidentally stumbled into another dimension. But we were used to hearing that an undergraduate degree is the new high school diploma, so we decided higher education would be in our best interests.

The story we were told was: College is just another entry on the long checklist of prerequisites for “a better life.” It is black or white, fulfilled or unfulfilled, institutionalization or death.

Fortunately, Western offers an appealing alternative for those who see these binaries as bizarre and archaic. Knowledge kindled to our passions: It enabled us to better know ourselves as individuals as we began to weave our lives together.

My husband followed me to school, deciding to try his luck at college. I gave him the opportunity to be there.

“We just kind of slid into life up in Gunnison after our wedding,” Quinn recalls.

He never expected to go to college, because he never really cared much for academics.

“I was never really sure what I was going to do after high school,” he says. “But I knew I needed to be building something. My first plan was to join the Air Force, but I found out I couldn’t enlist as a pilot. After slaving through a hellish Black Friday shift in Target’s electronic department, I decided to further my education.”

My husband grew up with a sense of introspection and creativity that led him to pursue music at the expense of his regular classes. What he found stifling and uninspiring about his daily scholastic grind was thankfully missing in music. It emphasized composition and expression over rote memorization or standardized performance. His fascination with music compelled him to join most of his high school’s performing arts programs, including symphonic band, jazz band and the community orchestra.

“I even convinced the high school Math department to let me play in jazz band instead of taking extra physics courses,” Quinn says.

It was that same drive toward composition and creation that led him to pursue Computer Information Science in his second semester at Western, where he excelled far beyond what his high school self could have dreamed. When he was allowed to bring his unique energy to academics, his studies suddenly came to life.

“I finally found that I could do things I was interested in, like building autonomous robots with Robotics club,” Quinn says.

For me, it was a bit like watching him wake up.

A Different Approach to Education

Our instructors focus on the overall quality of the finished project rather than the arbitrary distinction of deadlines. They are generally open to negotiation with students over due dates, as long as the displacement is proportionally met with surplus effort and quality.

“I was surprised by how accommodating everyone is here: professors, employers and other students,” Quinn says. “After what felt like an eternity of not fitting in and struggling through life, I now have the resources and the confidence to tackle anything — because I’ve actually found something that works for me.”

As a senior, he now helps with Western’s website and dreams of working for Google. He has continued following his passion for making music, playing bass in Western’s Dixieland Jazz ensemble as well as in the Varsity band. Restless for another creative outlet, he joined the student-led blues band Two Faces West and has been a fixture in the trio ever since. The band has become a Gunnison favorite.

I decided my college experience was going to be more experimental. Having eschewed further pursuit of music, I chose to be creatively academic.

When I started school, I was set on getting an Elementary Education Licensure. I wanted to become the kind of eccentric teacher I was privileged to have growing up. However, I backed out when I saw the structured course schedule for Elementary Education majors. Students who want to be teachers have to take a crash course in nearly every subject it’s possible to learn. Having just graduated high school, I didn’t feel like rehashing everything I had spent the past 12 years absorbing.

I bummed around without declaring a major for a while before a senior friend recommended I take Philosophy 101. She promised it would mess with my head. Intrigued, I signed up for the class as a sophomore. I can testify it did indeed mess with my head. It was the kind of education I had always dreamt about.

Philosophy 101 is one of the most sought-after classes on campus. I always thought this was because it simultaneously feeds your mind and turns your world upside-down. Philosophy is an addictive combination of mutagenic and catalytic science. Freedom, it says, is what you make of it – with all the terrifying implications of that statement.

If I had to describe my experience with philosophy, I would say: refreshing. It is impossible to live an unexamined life after being immersed in philosophy. After being jarred awake, I fell easily into a Sociology major, since, after all, it is just pragmatic philosophy. I hope to continue my immersion through graduate school and beyond. One day I may get to dissect fledgling Philosophy papers instead of just writing them.

When I consider why I came to Western, I am tempted to answer after Socrates’ “all that I know is that I know nothing,” which is, of course, the kind of sneaky philosophical sidestep that makes the discipline both infuriating and satisfying. It seems I stumbled upon Western while searching blindly for an avenue to a better life. I now know I was drawn to stay because of the space Western puts between itself and many other academic institutions. We could have gone anywhere, but we chose Western for its incongruent charm.

Our college experience couldn’t have worked out better for us. The opportunity of Western is the opportunity of difference, of pliability. Education involves adapting to change and generating creative solutions to problems.

In a strange way, education is the living relationship between action and words that shapes the marriage of coherence.

— Rebecca Ingram-Bryant