Feb 5 – PLS major Holden O’Donnell has been heralded as a local hero thanks to his actions during a disaster last week. When he passed a burning dormitory on south quad, which no one evacuated because they figured it was just those Zahm guys up to their old tricks again, O’Donnell sprang into action. The junior from Rochester, New York set about saving each person’s intellectual life by providing them with the foundation of a true liberal arts education.
“I’m not a hero,” said O’Donnell. “You know who’s a hero? Odysseus. And if one person died without knowing who Odysseus is? Well, that would be a major failure of mine and of the American higher education system.”
O’Donnell set about sprinting to each person within the building and heroically informing them on the importance of a liberal arts education. Fighting off the incipient effects of smoke inhalation, O’Donnell gallantly taught them of the classic literature that defines Western culture. One student had this to say:
“You know, as an engineering major, I never really knew what I was missing. Yeah, maybe I can build bridges, or irrigation systems to help third world peoples, or buildings that don’t burn down. But, without a liberal education, can I really think?”
The student then went back to paying attention to the flames eating away at his legs.
Holden ran down all the most crucial Western literature he had encountered in his PLS classes and English electives to truly save those who might die as a boring, albeit functional, STEM major.
“I went through everything from early Greek philosophy to transcendentalism,” he said. “I felt people really enjoyed the bits about Walt Whitman. They were absolutely screaming with enjoyment! Sadly, after I did all that, I had to leave. The fire was consuming the very foundation of the building and it was going to collapse.”
Some onlookers were confused, as they saw Holden darting in and out without physically carrying any victims of the fire.
“Yeah, I’m not really sure what he’s doing in there,” sophomore Andy Dillon, noted before watching for a while longer, and adding “But he keeps going back into the flames, so he must be really helping.”
And he was. While there were 45 casualties that day, there was also something more valuable than human life – intellectual growth. For his work during the fire, O’Donnell was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, a Fulbright scholarship, and a MacArthur Genius grant. But through it all, Holden has continued to insist that he’s no hero, only a young man looking to bring credit to his major for making him the kind of person that would do what he did.
“You know, a lot of people discount the liberal arts because ‘it’s not practical’ or ‘you won’t be able to get a job.’ But you know what an engineer can’t do? Save lives. And that’s what I did. Had that poorly constructed, old building not gone up in flames, all those people would still be ignorant. And alive, but whatever. That’s why liberal arts are so important. College isn’t about acquiring skills or finding a passion in something useful – it’s about reading books that you can tell people about. And that’s why I study the liberal arts.”