Erin Dockery (C’20) prepares for an afternoon canoeing on Lake Cheston. Photo by Lucy Wimmer (C’20).
By Luke Gair
Listening to Erin Dockery (C’20) speak evokes a sensation similar to paging through a carefully designed planner. After only a few moments, it becomes clear she is incredibly calculated. Like a teacher with a lesson plan, she tracks the hours and minutes in the day with intention, but adamant forethought is not the entire equation for success. Since middle school, Dockery’s love for studying literature has propelled her in the classroom and beyond.
“My education is not about memorizing facts or reciting things,” explained Dockery. “It’s a way that I can look at something I don’t understand. I now have the tools in order to comprehend it, even if it is so foreign or out of my comfort zone.”
She went on to emphasize that in a world where unbounded information is right at our fingertips, knowledge is almost meaningless if one doesn’t understand what they are reading. In scope of her education at Sewanee, she has not learned what to think, but rather how to. While some may argue that leaving college with an English degree is risky, Dockery exemplifies precisely why such an education is indispensable.
Beyond her major course studies, her anthropology minor lets her to break away from the page to “talk about people, and why literature matters.” She links her two fields of study through exploring literature’s influence over its readers, underlining that writing’s true importance is how it makes people feel and that it encourages one to think beyond themselves.
While she may flourish now, Dockery hasn’t always been surrounded by encouraging peers. She spent a considerable portion of her childhood in the Euclid public school system, where she was often teased by other students for her demonstrated excitement in the classroom. Rather than stick it out through high school, she began searching for an education elsewhere.
“I was so passionate about learning but couldn’t feel safe in the classroom, [and] transitioning into private school allowed me to be with kids also very passionate about school,” she shared. “Even things down to wearing a uniform made everyone on the same level, and it was so relieving to not worry about that.”
Dockery remarked that throughout her time as an English major, she has frequently struggled with academia’s inclination toward older texts. She instead embraces contemporary literature wholeheartedly, and like a true anthropologist, believes that it reveals much about the world we are living in.
“There are limitations on what reading older texts can do… [contemporary] talks about our world in a way that is important to see. It gives students the language to communicate about hard things,” she said.
Understanding history and its implications are requisite for any scholar, but Dockery suggested that “if you can’t talk about it in a way that is respectful to everyone in the classroom, then it isn’t doing what it is supposed to do.”
Such careful consideration for her peers calls to a passion for teaching that she hopes to explore after graduating. While English teachers proved formative for her, they doubly served as a means of inspiration for her career. She recalled a “wild and kooky” teacher who shared her passion for books and reading, and it lead Dockery to realize that education is where she wanted to be.
Some undergraduate students vie for internships in corporate offices and nine-to-five ennui, but she instead spent last summer working for the Student Outing Program. She named it one of her most remarkable summers to date “because it taught me how to be really flexible… I never knew what I was going to do when I came in the morning.”
It was certainly stressful for her to go in and not have a set agenda, but she found that “it didn’t matter that I didn’t know what was going to happen that day.”
Her necessity to plan each and every moment was again challenged this semester after a concussion-inducing fall while bouldering in the Fowler Center.
“People have concussions all the time, but I live my life with an intensity that sometimes scares others. Every second to me matters, and I don’t take breaks and I don’t rest,” she said. “Maybe that’s not always good, but I think life is so precious to me, and I have to live every second of it. While it was probably good that I took two weeks of rest, it also destroyed me a little.”
Slower moments on the Domain allow Dockery to turn to her creative work as well. Whether it’s watching the trees sway or observing others go about their day in McClurg, she said that these moments are all inspiring factors in her writing.
She remarked that poetry has been a part of her life since the seventh grade, and it served as her “primary medium for getting angst… I fell in love with playing with words and the power that they have.”
More recently, short stories have sparked her interest. With a sprightly laugh, she turned to the trees before speaking.
“I feel like I can just take the world that I live in and spin it to make it super weird.”