Just over twenty years ago, when I was a senior in high school, I somehow managed to get invited into this program in which I could take a college course or two. I remember the whole experience very clearly. I got out of school a couple of periods early all week so that on just two days I could walk down to the university and attend Classical Civilization 252b: Plato's Republic. (Why is it that I can remember that course number from twenty years ago, but I can't remember the numbers of the courses I'm in now when I get to the library reserve desk?)
As time has gone by, I have come to realize the intense and abiding influence this course had on me. That I should have been exposed to the middle Plato at age seventeen or eighteen set me up to be a philosophy student in undergraduate, and I thus acquired, quite providentially, the classic preparation for the theology I was called to study later on. For the first time in my life I was taught something like a coherent way to think about a spiritual reality, and so I can't deny that this course formed a significant part of my proximate preparation to assent to Catholic Christianity two years later. (Perhaps Clement of Alexandria and Justin Martyr would be proud.)
I reflect on all of this sometimes when I notice one of the practical ways in which I was influenced by the course. During one of our first classes, the professor threw this funny little rant about highlighters. They were undignified, he said, and it made him sad to see venerable texts from the great achievements of human civilization all marked up with bright yellow or hot pink. The lowly and understated pencil was the instrument appropriate to the humble student, he explained. Underlining with a check mark or occasional asterisk in the margin was all we should need.
I absorbed the plea completely, both in its tone and its practice. As I start my tenth year of formal schooling since Classical Civilization 252b, I have never marked up a text with anything but a pencil, and with only underlining, check marks, and the occasional asterisk.