A story of an Autodidact
A contraption of funny sorts.
Not something one would normally see.
Especially not on a college campus.
From the hours of midnight until 2 a.m. a young man with shaggy brown hair by the name of Drew Harrison emerges from Evans Hall. He is not off to study or to meet a girl. He is off to practice his new hobby. Up he jumps onto his unicycle.
One, two, three seconds. Down.
He steadies the single wheeled vehicle and climbs up again.
. . .three, four, five seconds. Down.
“For two weeks, I would practice for a couple hours,” Harrison said. “My goal was to just get as far as I could, and to get further every time. I probably fell a thousand times.”
Trying to avoid as many casualties as possible while he tried out his spur-of-the-moment decision, the odd hours of the night provided the perfect environment.
“I hate making decisions and when I do I think long and hard about all the possibilities,” Harrison said. “But my friend offered me his unicycle for $50 and I thought, ‘why not’. It was totally out of character for me to purchase it right then.”
“I tried looking up tutorials of how to learn to ride it,” Harrison said. “But, they all failed to teach me what only practice can do. So, I stopped watching [the videos] and just went out and taught myself.”
So why does a freshman from New Hampshire who is a double major in physics and philosophy, while minoring in mathematics ride this normally circus-bound contraption?
“I enjoy being unique,” Harrison said. “Sometimes I can come off as an attention seeker. Being different it where I feel the most ‘Drew’; it’s why I wear my Yoda backpack around. I like to make people smile.
“Both Yoda and my unicycle have become conversation starters for me,” Harrison said. “Which has helped me break out of my shell. I have always been an introvert, so going up to people and starting a conversation is usually out of the ordinary.”
But out of the ordinary isn’t all new to him. He fits in well, living in Evans, which is known to be a little “offbeat” according to Harrison. And he likes it.
“I am upholding the reputation of Evans,” he said. “Being silly and odd in public is something not enough people do. When I ride my unicycle I hope that I am encouraging people to be [different] or at least think about their behavior.”
He has been called the epitome of Evans.
“Quite the compliment to embody the whole dorm,” he says laughing. And then his face becomes serious again and he thinks, pondering all the conversations that have happened because of his single-wheeled hobby.
“I like deeper conversations,” he said. “Keeping [conversations] surface level isn’t what humans are supposed to do. We aren’t meant to just exist on the surface. We are meant to submerge ourselves in each other’s lives, to the extent that we have to hold on to one another or we will drown.
“That’s why I don’t like to tell people details about my life right away,” Harrison continued. “I want people to know ‘Drew’ before they know about me.”
Harrison touched on the idea that we are all made up of little facts that people use as “tokens” to understand one another. But these tokens can lead one astray if one does not know the essence of a person first.
“People automatically assume things if I tell them that I spent eight years of my life in India and Saudi Arabia,” Harrison said.
“Or that I taught myself how to play piano, and juggle. Or how I was ranked 7th in all of New Hampshire for the 400 meter dash, my PR was 50 seconds. Or about how my dad and I are usually the youngest kayakers in our group to do class four rapids.”
The token of an adrenaline junkie.
Harrison paused, looking down at his hands and fiddling his thumbs, making a beat on the blue couch he sat on.
Assuming the next question to be asked was about his time in Saudi Arabia he jumped right into his experience abroad.
“My family and I were in Saudi during 9/11,” Harrison said. “An absolute crazy experience. I know God had us there for a reason though. We eventually had to leave, and one week after we left, there was a shooting in the area we had been living in.
“Every week we had to move houses to do worship in because the guards were always on the lookout,” Harrison said. “Growing up in [this environment] taught me a lot about what it means to be a Christ-follower. I prefer the term Christ-follower over Christian.
“Words are so important, if you really stop and think about them,” he said. “Just take the word ‘awesome’. Do you know what you are saying when you use that word? The awe-inspiring aspect of the word is often lost in translation.”
Harrison let on that just like he ponders every decision he makes, he goes over every word that he says and repeats it to himself in his head. He has taught himself the importance of meaning every word and the genuineness that goes along with that. He hopes that this genuine love for words and for the people around him will carry on next year as he takes on a role he has never had before.
“I will be an RA in Evans next year and I am so ecstatic,” He said. “It will be hard since I am more of an introvert, and this task requires a lot of [extrovert-ness].”
For once it’s something he can’t quite teach himself.
“This is one of the things I am most grateful for from my friends,” he said. “They have taught me a lot about myself and have changed me for the better.”
He hopes that the RA position will allow him to grow in new ways. And eventually he won’t just be the “unicycle guy” or the “Yoda backpack guy” or the guy who kayaks off of waterfalls and teaches himself piano.
He will be the one that fits in well with his quirky residents of Evans, but still stands out for that same quirkiness around campus as he speeds by on his trusty unicycle.
A face many will come to know.
Especially on a college campus.
A conception of a self-taught man.