Alan discussed his life, memoir, and career with a select group of Arcadia University students.
Alan discussed his life, memoir, and career with a select group of Arcadia University students.

A Question for Alan Cumming

Throughout high school, I studiously avoided using my mind. I never thought critically about what I was learning and simply took everything at face value, and nobody questioned or noticed my ignorance. But I knew. After I transferred to cyberschool for my last two years of high school, critical thinking was even less important since I had self-paced online classes and no more classroom discussions. I embraced not having to think critically or on the spot anymore, since I have social anxiety and find expressing myself to be difficult at times.

When I entered Arcadia University this fall, the jig was up.

Suddenly, I was being asked to explain my reasoning in five-page essays. Class participation isn’t merely encouraged here—it’s expected, and makes up a huge slice of final course grades. Extending the conversation beyond the classroom with professors during office hours or with friends is welcome.

I had no choice but to work out my issues with thinking. I immersed myself in my assigned readings, pre-writing paragraphs about topics I could discuss in class. I even practiced what to say in my dorm room before class so my brain wouldn’t go blank and I could improve my speaking skills. My preparation has paid off, although my heart still pounds and my palms sweat a bit when it’s my turn to speak. I’ve held my own during class discussions.

I patiently (and nervously!) waited for the right time to ask my question.

I patiently (and nervously!) waited for the right time to ask my question.

My ultimate test in thought came on October 8, 2015, when I found myself face to face with Alan Cumming, a famous actor and the author of the first-year summer reading book, Not My Father’s Son. Through Arcadia’s PRIDE and theater organizations, a select group of students were chosen to participate in a small discussion group with him, and I was one of them. At first, I was excited. A chance to meet Floop and the man I’d gotten to know (through paper, anyway) over the summer? Yes!

But panic soon seeped in, quashing my excitement. What would I ask him? I was just starting to get comfortable expressing my own thoughts in classroom discussions and now I was supposed to ask him about his?

I sat down at my laptop at 2 a.m., a blank Word document in front of me, our meeting with him the next day looming heavy.  I had researched at least 10 interviews with Alan Cumming and re-read his memoir that week, but still couldn’t think of anything to ask. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I groaned loudly, waking up my roommate. What original question is there to ask of somebody who’s already discussed so much of his life publicly?

Then it hit me. The perfect question. I hadn’t seen it  in any of the interviews.  It was something that subconsciously burned in my mind as I’d read his memoir. Satisfied, I went to bed.

Request info about Arcadia.

The next day dragged on until 3 p.m., 10 minutes before the discussion. I walked from my dorm to Arcadia’s massive castle and went to the Rose and Mirror Room, where the discussion would be held. As usual, I was struck by the chandeliers bathing the room in a golden light, the soft watercolor paintings on the ceiling, and the intricate carvings decorating the walls. But I had a singular focus at this moment and couldn’t focus too much on the opulence. I sat down and  rehearsed my question in my head over and over again until the discussion started.

Alan continuing the discussion outdoors after the official panel ended.

Alan continuing the discussion outdoors after the official panel ended.

It seemed forever, but finally the moment came. I raised my hand—my stomach felt like ballet dancers were rehearsing inside. Alan Cumming nodded his head toward me in acknowledgment, so I asked him:

“Most people kind of hide their past, and the bad things that happen to them. Why did you decide to be so,” I stumbled on the last word and took a deep breath, “candid?”

Embarrassed at my minor stumble that felt bigger, my mind blanked on the first part of his answer as I chastised myself. Then I realized the personal obstacle I had overcome. I had asked a thought-provoking question that generated a solid two to three minutes’ worth of answers from Alan Cumming. And I had spoken confidently before 30 people and a movie star.

A part of the Arcadia experience is conquering your fears and doing things anyway. In the last two months, I’ve experienced many eye-opening events, but meeting Alan Cumming and talking life with him was the most incredible experience that Arcadia has offered me—so far, anyway. Being encouraged to share my thoughts and express my feelings is something that I’ll have to do for the rest of my life, and I’m lucky to have found a school to support me with this obstacle. I know that many more amazing things are in store for my four years, and I can’t wait to discover whatever will come my way.