Most TASPers find their TASP experience difficult to define. According to the Telluride Association’s website, a Telluride Association Summer Program is “a six-week educational experience for high school juniors that offers challenges and rewards rarely encountered in secondary school or even college.” And while I suppose this is true, TASPers rarely settle for these words as a singular definition. TASP is something more: a summer dedicated entirely to ideas, language, and thrillingly brilliant peers who share a love of thought.
For admission, prospective TASPers (cutesily called TASPlicants) complete what the website calls a “rigorous application process” – five essays, including a literary analysis and a discussion of a particularly interesting intellectual problem, as well as a book list. Once one has panicked, scrambled, triple-checked, word-counted, and finally submitted the files, TASPlication readers spend a few months selecting around 100 applicants as TASP finalists. The finalists are then contacted for interviews by Telluride Associates – often TASP alumni – in their hometown. For those of us lucky enough to be ultimately admitted to the program, the interview serves as a tiny preview of the intellectual microcosm that’s about to become our own for a summer.
My TASP, held at the University of Michigan, centered around a daily seminar: Freedom, Dialogue, and Polarization. My fifteen seminar-mates and I read everything from the ancient Greeks to Shakespeare to Roe v. Wade. We wrote essay after essay into the morning light (not figurative. I once stayed up until 6:30 working on a paper). Never have I been forced to delve so deeply into and think so critically about what comprise the some of the most complex texts I’ve ever come across. Discussions were serious and often intense, but always open-minded and laced with goofy TASP humor (think impromptu Team Cordelia vs. Team Lear debates in our discussion of King Lear). Seminar stands alone as my most important academic of yet. Those three hours every morning changed the way I think about my studies, my writing, even my own thought processes.
TASPers are uniformly intelligent and driven, but what stands out in the lovely people with whom I spent my summer is their genuine passion and warmth. I’ve never come across such a group so excited to debate the philosophical implications of the ambiguity of the word “sandwich”, nor have I been so amazed by a group of peers’ open displays of authentic generosity and kindness. From spontaneous rain dances and poetry readings to smoothie-making parties and basement workout sessions, much of TASP is about fun with a group of people who quite often seem eerily like one’s kindred spirits.
TASP was not perfect. Yes, most of us ended up getting 4 hours of sleep each night (at best!), and yes, living with 31 seventeen year olds in a sorority house can become intense. Yet for many 2011 TASPers, the experience already feels like a formative one. When I walked back into my house after forty-two sweltering Michigan days, I felt a little different—perhaps not yet prepared to write a Pulitzer Prize winning volume or even fully understand how to play the game Diplomacy, but changed, filled now with memories of an irreplaceable community of 32 that prized incisive thinking, compassion, and a genuine joy for living thoughtfully.
(Image -- Cleaning Committee TASPers take a philosophical approach to their duties)