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Politics and Activism

My Gap Year Curriculum - Alternative Life Part I

I never had less than an A on my high school report card, my ACT and SAT scores were nearly perfect, I got into every college I applied to...and I didn't go to any of them.

My Gap Year Curriculum - Alternative Life Part I
Emerson Roberts

With a month left of senior year, I decided to withdraw from the college I was committed to and build a year for myself instead.

I wanted to maintain an active curiosity throughout my gap year and use it as an opportunity to learn with no restrictions. I'm sharing an outline of the curriculum I created for myself in the hopes that perhaps my year can inspire others. I tried to experience, and learn about, as much as possible- without having any money. My personalized curriculum played out as follows:


  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • A Primer of Freudian Psychology by Calvin S. Hall
  • The Man who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins
  • Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion by Herbert Aptheker
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  • Essential Bukowski Poetry by Charles Bukowski, selected by Abel Debritto
  • What a Plant Knows by Daniel Chamovitz
  • Letters to a Young Scientist by Edward O. Wilson
  • Bee Time by Mark L. Winston


  • CodeAcademy HTML and CSS courses
  • Harvard's Justice with Michael Sandel (lectures via youtube)
  • MIT Quantum Mechanics; MIT Intro to Astronomy (lectures via youtube)
  • Duolingo- French and Spanish
  • Kahn Academy Computer Science

Volunteering on the Appalachian for two weeks

Emerson Roberts

  • Learned what constitutes a well-designed trail
    • Water drainage
    • Anti-erosion
    • Degree in elevation
    • Working with, instead of against, nature
    • Trail grade
  • Living in the woods
    • How to set up camp
    • Leave No Trace
    • Cooking in the wilderness


Time Capsule

  • Recorded an album
    • Wrote, performed, and recorded each part
    • Mixed the album
      • Learned about sound engineering through trial-and-error
  • How to be successful in your local music scene
    • Developed strong networking skills
    • Manage social media
    • Live performances


Emerson Roberts

  • Attended speeches and events of interest
    • International Socialist Organization meeting
    • Marijuana Legalization panel
    • Letter-writing parties
      • ie asking Wendy's to join the Fair Food Group
    • Writing prompt poetry workshops
  • Consistent museum visits
  • Local politics
    • Co-organized a panel for students to speak with local officials about gun violence
      • Created an online questionnaire to collect as many voices and as much data as possible
      • Compromised with politicians to find a platform that pleased both the students and the officials
      • Prompted mature dialogue amongst opposing opinions
  • Started a novel; published two poetry books

I felt compelled to write this article at this moment in time because life is a constant go, go, go, get the degree, get the job, get the house, take out the loan... it's time for us to start slowing down and actually living. Stepping off of that conveyor belt for a year was incredibly transformative. It was the first time in my entire life that I felt full autonomy.

I am writing a series called Alternative Life, throughout which I document all of my quirky life stories, decisions, and lessons. Step off the conveyor belt with me. I promise it's worth the view.

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