What else is there to do?" he asked. "I've never been able to sit life has to have a purpose, it has to be used. To not do anything, to have a gift and to hold it? That's the most selfish thing you can do."
This sounds like the concluding paragraph of an inherently optimistic novel. The type in which an inspiring protagonist lives beyond the book's final pages, continuing to enrich and better the lives of others.
And yet, however strongly these words resonate of novelistic sentiment, they belong to a real-life character. Sam Holtzman, a 25-year-old graduate student and teaching assistant in the Education School, is the type of guy whose subtle serenity doesn't exist in the literature of 20th century skeptics.
Because student-TA interaction doesn't often break the established boundaries of discussion sections and pre-exam office hours, it's far too easy to view a TA like Holtzman with a sort of "occupational" stereotype. But a mere glimpse into his life and philosophy demonstrates the "reality" of TAs -- their pasts, futures and daily approaches to life included.
"I sort of live by the old Buddhist proverb 'Eat when hungry. Sleep when tired,'" Holtzman explained in his soft and mild speech. Approaching the responsibilities associated with teaching, studying and personal pursuit with this in mind, Holtzman seems to have achieved a peaceful balance with relative ease.
A career in academia seemed more than appropriate for a guy whose father is a doctor and professor at Harvard Medical School and whose mother teaches the creative side of Babson College's MBA program (referred to affectionately by Holtzman as "creativity for yuppies").
"My family just believes in education strongly," he explained. "Try dinner. Dinner would be like a two hour thing
someone would ask a question about geography and the globe would end up in the middle of the table," he explained, casually adding that he did not have a TV until the age of 14.
After attending high school at both Concord Academy (five minutes from Emerson's Walden Pond) and the Mountain School (a self-sustained working farm in Vermont), Holtzman attended Kenyon University in Ohio. At Kenyon, he found a way to combine his personal and academic interests by designing his own major. Combining the humanitarian disciplines of anthropology, sociology and English, Holtzman created a major with a social focus.
"At Kenyon I designed my own major -- Deviance, Transgression and the Individual," he explained. "My real question that I was trying to answer was 'why are highly creative people and capable people considered deviants
when these are the people who will advance society through their own activities?'"
After receiving his undergraduate degree, Holtzman traveled to Spain,taught school in Georgia andeventually found himself at the University's Education School.
"I was teaching school in Augusta. I'd finished designing and teaching a curriculum and realized that the designing interested me as much as teaching itself," he said.
The Education School's Social Foundations program explores both the process and role of education in society and prepares its graduates for careers in a wide variety of fields. The academics and structure of the program appealed to Holtzman as a place where he could pursue his interests on several levels.
"Social Foundations -- that's why I came here," Holtzman said. "The program focused on the school as a whole. As somebody who wants to teach and be an administrator, its requirements are the most open," he said.
"I like to see school as a place where the social values of a community develop -- patience, understanding, sense of self," he said.
Holtzman spends his Mondays through Wednesdays pursuing the activities of one who is student, teacher and artist all in one. After a 20-minute drive from the country -- where he lives with five roommates, five dogs and three cats -- Holtzman spends Mondays tutoring students, introducing weekly concepts to the class facilitators of his Multicultural Education with co-TA Lana Perez and taking on his own academic work load. With each hour dedicated to productivity, it's early evening before he finally is able to take a break.
"I'm off until 7 p.m.," Holtzman acknowledged. "That's dinner time, dinner and a walk, a nap under a tree." That's all before class from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m
"After that, I might come to [Michael's] Bistro for music night if there's a good band," Holtzman said of his busy schedule. "But I'm usually wiped out so I just go home."
And on Tuesdays, he does it all again.
"I usually get up at 8:30 a.m. or 9 a.m., do some yoga -- it's so quiet where I live," Holtzman said. I "sit out on the back porch, drink coffee, start studying."
After his afternoon class, Holtzman usually heads to a coffee shop to start working.
"I like to get things done ahead of time," he said. "That's one of these things I learned a long time ago, that it takes me that much longer to get things done."
His structured approach to work cannot be entirely attributed to the type of organizational techniques a school such as the Education School might emphasize. Holtzman developed his own way of learning in response to a personal obstacle -- Attention Deficit Disorder.
Diagnosed with ADD in the seventh grade, Holtzman continually demonstrates the positive effects of determination and perseverance can have.
"In seventh grade they put me on Ritalin," he said. "My dislike for it pushed me to find ways to do it on my own. And from there it became organic."
Holtzman's disability largely factors into his teaching style and methods.
"It not only influenced my desire to teach but my effectiveness -- how I teach," emphasized Holtzman, who refers to his approach as "linear."
"I don't immediately presume that what's easy for me is easy for someone else, that there's a right way to go about things," he said.
In witnessing the current occupations of Holtzman's week, there is no evidence of past difficulties. Aside from any school-related work, Holtzman devotes a great deal of time to another of his passions -- poetry.
He currently is working on his third volume of poetry, and plans on pursuing a writing career along with teaching. Holtzman sees things occurring with consistent progression -- working at an elementary school as a teacher or administrator, getting involved in college level administration and eventually becoming a professor. His poetry, however, will always remain a factor.
"There's a chance if my writing gets accepted, takes off, that I'd still be in the education profession, but as a creative writer," Holtzman explained. "My dream would be [to be] a visiting poet."
Conventional academics aside, Holtzman has additional ideas about the development of a "creative community," an environment that will combine education and art. Holtzman describes this community as "a cooperative space for artists where materials and supplies are paid for in bulk. The artist pays by giving back through teaching in the afternoons, summer programs."
Holtzman's educational and creative goals seem to merge around the concept of "giving back," his artistic pursuits and plans for an academic career center on the Holtzman philosophy.
"I believe not just in education but the principles of it
really questioning things, accepting diversity," he explained. "I've grown up respecting people who believe that also, and thepeople who struggle toward creativity."