TASP: There are not enough words

Topiltzin (far right) with friends at the Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP)
by Topiltzin Gomez, Waukegan High School, Class of 2014

“Where did you go this summer?”

I went to Utopia. I went to a freedom I’ve never felt. I went to questions answered as a million more unanswered ones poured in. I went to a community that I hope to find again.

It isn’t easy to fully convey the experience in a short sound bite. Instead, I go for the general and satisfying response, “I went to a summer program on a college campus for six weeks.” But truth be told, I attended the Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP), where I was pushed intellectually (and pushed back), studied food, made life-long friends and returned exhausted and enlightened.

We were 32. Some 32 teenagers from around the world, from all parts of the economic spectrum with experiences and stories that could bring tears and laughter to any room. We assembled inside a rented sorority house on campus. When I took my place in that living room, I didn’t know it at the time but I was sitting next to a self-taught Esperantist and an avid Hemingway lover.

After hours of self-imposed name games, our factota (supervisors) told us what it meant to be there. “To those of you who wonder why you were accepted into this program, it’s because of the people around you. You got each other in. Everyone here has something to give you and you have something to give back.” The ultimate goal of TASP was to build an artificial community, one where dialogue leads to personal growth and the advancement of knowledge.

At first, it was overwhelming. The most outspoken individuals talked with unparalleled confidence and passion while casually dropping the names of German philosophers. My presence felt more like eavesdropping on a discussion. Initially, I felt a bit misplaced. But in the span of a few hours, I figured it out: if you don’t understand, listen and learn. That’s why you’re here.

In a few days the discussions went from topics that might as well have been debate prompts into subjects that dealt with the troubling and personal. We would say, “tell me your story,” and due to the trusting and open-minded nature of the people at the program,  stories would be told unabridged, usually for the first time. In the outside world, especially in educational settings, there is a need to hide the emotions and biases that influence one’s thoughts. At TASP, however, these emotions and biases were everything. In a teary-eyed midnight, I found my unfiltered voice.

Fast-forward to June 27th, six days away from the end of TASP; it is my turn to speak. I am in front of 31 friends about to give a 20-minute speech pointing out the negative aspects of multiculturalism and fragmented societies. I am treading dangerous ground by speaking in support of assimilation (which I don’t even completely support). I will surely polarize the crowd and aggressive debates will ensue. But this is TASP, and I may never find a community where my opinion is so heavily analyzed and discussed. I have to go for it. It’s now or never.

TASP has helped me build my voice, and now I will use that voice to its fullest degree. I am going to speak, not just for myself, but for the TASP intellectual community. No matter what intellectual battles are to be fought, I know that in a few hours I will be enjoying a summer night with my new lifelong friends. We will laugh, creating memories and bonds that will remain powerful long after we leave our Utopia. 

To learn about Telluride Association Summer Programs for 2014, visit the TASP program website.


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