All posts by Thomas Scharbach

Architecture: a paragon profession?

Architecture is a great career option for those who love to work with the technical and the creative: it balances mathematics with design and drawing. Not only that, it pays well too, with the possibility of $150,000 per year. But although architecture is a great job to consider, is it really as creative as one might hope? Does it require too much work? Idealistic views about architecture need a reality check.

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When I was younger, I imagined that daily work as an architect would be designing exotic mansions and museums for my clients. As the years progressed, however, I began to suspect that many architects may just be sitting in an office designing parking garages and development houses. I heard of an architect that went through years of the required rigorous training, and upon getting a job as an architect, was assigned to document windows for six months. In many cases, architects won’t do much designing at all. A day in the life for some consists of converting designs into a format that is usable for contractors. 

I had a conversation with architect Mr. Robert Shuman about this issue; he confirmed that architecture can be tedious at some points. After all, somebody has to design the development home and the parking garage. However, he assured me that the monotonous work is just the stepping stone to developing more unique and artistic projects. Shuman works in a firm that handles many custom orders for housing, so they essentially design the homes of people’s dreams. Shuman related that his favorite part of his job is designing a building’s schematics from the ground up, with all the creativity and problem solving that comes with it. The creative and puzzle-like aspects make all the monotonous groundwork worth it.

 Also, being an architect requires a lot of time. Malcolm Gladwell once suggested that to become proficient and successful in a skill, one needs to practice for at least 10,000 hours over one’s lifetime. An architect gets 10,000 hours out of the way very quickly. This means that being an architect can be a very demanding and intense profession. The schooling for architecture includes a “weed-out” program with about a 50% drop-out rate. This is to prepare students for the real world. Architects don’t work by hours, but by hard deadlines, making 60 hour weeks not only common, but sometimes a minimum as deadlines approach. Shuman recounts how someone in his architecture class who, although he was brilliant, cracked under the demands of the college class and dropped out.

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Unfortunately, this extreme time commitment can adversely impact other areas of an architect’s life. Sustaining a healthy marriage, committing to active friendships, and being a good parent can be a problem due to the potential excessive demands on one’s time. I talked with someone whose father was an architect, and she said that her parents divorced when she was younger, and she felt disconnected from her father. She said these two problems came from how she felt her father often put his work above family priorities. To balance work and family lives, the architect must be very intentional about their priorities.

I don’t mean to deter anyone from pursuing the profession. In fact, I think that someone who loves to be creative but still loves the sciences should seriously consider becoming one. Shuman said, “Designing buildings is an art form.” The profession can be gratifying, not only with the design aspect, but also with the puzzle-like problem solving that comes with it. Perhaps architecture deviates from my 7th grade ideal, because after all, being an architect requires quite some resilience. But for many, the ending satisfaction makes all the hard hours worth it.

Thomas Scharbach is a sophomore member of the Multimedia Journalism class

Happiness in struggle

Because of the nature of our fallen world, it is a guarantee that everyone will have to face tragedy at some point in their lives; furthermore, everyone everywhere is hurting in some way. In suffering, people often seek pleasure as a means to happiness, but in the calamitous world we live in, pleasure rarely leads to lasting happiness.

The dilemma that pleasure and happiness do not equate often begs the question, “Why?” After all, shouldn’t we just enjoy our short existence while it lasts? People argue that denying ourselves pleasure can only make us miserable. I genuinely believe we should indulge in life as much as possible – if life was that simple. 

Unfortunately, life rarely is.

We live in a world where things are lost. Jobs fold, stocks crash, natural disasters rage. No one can deny this, meaning that everyone who holds on to pleasure will inevitably face the anxiety of losing it. Even if there is a glorious numbness while indulging in the pleasure, the cycle of numbness to anxiety and back again can hardly be called happiness, can it?

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During a Freshman O’Neil Peer Education session, my class and I participated in an activity where we were asked a few questions by our peer educators. After each one, we moved to different corners of the room to express our opinion on the issue. Soon we were asked, “Can money make you happy?” The majority of the kids voted no, but a few did go to the “yes” corner. One of these explained, “I mean, if somebody gave me a million dollars right now, I’d be happy.” 

My only thought about this student’s response was, “Well, that’s a bit depressing.” The basis for my concern rested in the fact that when one searches for happiness solely in these pleasures, one won’t be happy until they are found. Even once one gets their desired pleasure, if these riches were lost, one would also lose one’s happiness. 

Life is hard. Most people could testify that it is a struggle just to get through each day. When struggling, maybe it isn’t pleasure we should seek after, but instead purpose. As expressed in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, “ … I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness.” 

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Thomas Scharbach is a sophomore member of the Multimedia Journalism class

The tradition of the tower

We leave our mark; that’s what we do.

Mr. Frank Espinosa, Principal of Mount Saint Joseph High School

At Mount Saint Joseph High School, the sense of unity is almost palpable. As many of the students, teachers, and alumni agree, this unity stems from the school’s vibrant tradition. Traditions like those fostered at The Mount are essential because traditions unite the participants, define their goals, and create a consistency that makes one feel a part of something bigger.  For example, suppose a family fosters a longstanding tradition of visiting ancestors’ graves on their birthdays, each member of the family will feel connected through this tradition. In that case, they’ll realize how important it is to respect their family members, and everyone will see that everyone is loved. When beliefs like these are affirmed so strongly, a family will be united firmly.

As students turn to alumni at Mount Saint Joseph, they often return to teach other students and participate in reunions. This is because their connection to the community continues past their four-year education. Because of our traditions, students feel permanently grafted onto the community. From the school-wide masses to the lively spirit week game nights, all our traditions are made to bring the community together. 

The tower was used to connect the major buildings on campus and was used as a stairwell.

One of the most essential of these traditions, however, began almost as a prank. Around the 1960s, before the campus was remodeled and when Mount Saint Joseph was a boarding school, the tower served as the main staircase for two buildings coming out of it in an L-shape. The students boarded on the lower floors of the building, and none were allowed on the top floor where the brothers lived. Every now and then, the students would see how close they could get to the top floor without getting caught, leaving their names on one of the bricks up there as proof of their accomplishment. And soon, this dare became a rite of passage, and later this rite of passage became a tradition. Now, as seniors approach graduation, each has a chance to sign their name on the bricks of the tower during their theology classes. 

This tradition, in particular, is important for the Mount Saint Joseph community because when a student writes his name on the bricks in permanent ink, he feels like he is permanently part of the community, that he’s permanently left a mark. Mount graduate Mr. Jody Harris said in regards to the tower tradition, “As I went up into the tower, I looked around, and I saw [the signatures of] different people from different eras, and you get a sense that you’re part of something bigger.” The sense of being part of something bigger and being part of the community is what reinforces the unity at Mount Saint Joseph. Mr. Espinosa, the principal at MSJ, said, “We leave our mark; that’s what we do.”

The tradition of signing your name in the tower originated with students sneaking to the upper floors without waking the Xaverian Brothers living there.

Another reason the tower tradition is so important for the community is that each student adds to the school monument when he signs his name on a brick. The tower is what defines our campus. “It’s almost like [the tower has] been cut and pasted in there because it’s so robust and so big that it just towers over everything,” said Mr. Espinosa, “…It’s something to be proud of.” And as the students climb the steps up to the tower and begin to see the signatures and the sprawl of the surrounding neighborhoods, there’s the sense that the tower is a really unique and special place. Mr. Schuberth, a Mount grad, said, “I love seeing [the seniors’] reaction when they step out onto the top of the tower.” He continues, “You’ve been here four years, you think you’ve seen everything there is to see here at Mount Saint Joe, but you go up to the top of the tower, you get to see the campus in a whole new way.” 

Senior looks out on Irvington from the top of the tower.

Later the school tore down the buildings connected to the tower to make way for fresh, new ones. The school had initially made plans to get rid of the tower as well, but the alumni came together to remind them that the tower was something essential to the community at Mount Saint Joseph. It made them feel like they still were a part of the family. Although built 120 years ago, the tower stands today, still uniting the community in 2021. 

Thomas Scharbach is a sophomore member of the Multimedia Journalism class

Art as a means to strive for beauty

“The first time of many that I really recognized the beauty in art…it brought me from the verge of giving up on art to barely keeping up with all the things I wanted to make.”

Isaac Scharbach, Class of 2017

What if the sole purpose of creating art was to produce something beautiful? Most of the mainstream artists today don’t consider this option because the art that makes up our museums was put together as a means for getting a point across or for self-expression, not solely for beauty. 

Paintings that wish to get a point across demand an audience because they lose all relevance without one. This often makes the authors feel dependent on fame and self-gain.  On the other side of the spectrum, artists who create as a means of expression too often portray themselves and the world as they see it: ugly and dark. Because the two styles mentioned above are what the world consumes, we begin to emulate these values and are degraded by them. 

“Isolation” by Isaac Scharbach ’17. He painted this shortly after discovering the concept of painting something beautiful.

But there’s another option — the art that is created solely for beauty. Such artwork doesn’t need an audience to have value, and it can take the brokenness of the world and look past the present grief it causes. Isaac Scharbach, an artist and a 2017 Mount graduate, reminisced, “The first time of many that I really recognized the beauty in art…it brought me from the verge of giving up on art to barely keeping up with all the things I wanted to make.”

Death of Marat by David
“The Death of Marat.” Wikipedia Commons.

When the selfish aspects of conveying a message and the dark elements to expression take center stage, it affects our perspective and goals. What would the world look like if artists — no, everyone — strove for something that was independent of zeitgeist, something that didn’t deny hardship but looked past the hopelessness; that strove for beauty.

But unfortunately, many artists don’t care for that. The painting “The Death of Marat” depicts a man bathed in soft, glowing light, lying apparently killed in his bathtub. Commissioned by the French to glorify the recently assassinated leader of the French Revolution, this painting was made to convey a message. But when this is the artist’s only goal, there is a demand for an audience. Where there is a demand for an audience, selfish ambition follows close behind. 

Untitled (Skull). Wikipedia Commons. Fair Use – This is a historically significant work that could not be conveyed in words. Inclusion is for information, education, and analysis only.

Many of the works that artists created for expression aren’t much better. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Untitled (Skull)” represents the artist’s despair that he will forever remain a displaced Haitian immigrant. The patchwork, colorful human head appears scarred and bruised, bearing an expression of unconsoled hopelessness. 

Paintings like these too often create patterns of negativity and selfishness. But what if instead of painting the murder of a political figure or a disfigured skull, artists painted the simple beauty of light playing in the folds of drapery or the joy of a child splashing in a mud puddle? I would love to see what such a change in perspective could mean for the world.

Thomas Scharbach is a sophomore member of the Multimedia Journalism class.