My favorite films are the types that make me think about life, that stir an excitement or yearning within me, that allow me to experience life in a way I have not personally been able to live out or hear about.
Recently, I had the opportunity to watch two movies through Vanderbilt. The Women’s Center hosted a screening of Hidden Figures on campus, and I saw Contact at the nearby Belcourt Theatre for free through Vanderbilt’s FLICX Screenings. I came away incredibly impressed with both, walking out of the theatre wanting to forget about the schoolwork I still had to complete and to just delve into thinking about the films, and furthermore how I wanted to allow the films to affect my life.
Hidden Figures focused on how three African-American women mathematicians, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, made major contributions at NASA to the launch of astronaut John Glenn into space. Contact is a science fiction film about a female scientist, Dr. Eleanor Arroway, who finds evidence of extraterrestrial life, delving into themes of science and religion as well as the various ramifications that such a discovery brings.
What struck me the most about the films was how the main protagonists lived in the messiness of everything around them, of the politics and the racism and the sexism, how they persevered through it, not ignoring the obstacles they faced, but at the same time focusing on their work. Because what mattered most to them was their respective missions, the goal; they were just as capable as anyone else, if not more so, and they were so in love with what they were pursuing: in Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson striving to put someone into space; in Contact, Eleanor finding and contacting extraterrestrial life, that they stayed true to what they were there for.
As a math major myself, seeing both of these movies within a couple weeks of each other left me feeling incredibly inspired and reflective. I wonder whether I will have that resolve and passion to leave a meaningful impact, to contribute something, not for the sake of fame or recognition, but to know personally that I have worked towards something of value to the world.
I’m already seeing how being a math major has taught me to persevere, to sit and wrestle with the difficulty of figuring out how to prove a theorem. Because you can ask for help, but at the end of the day, you have to personally work through the difficulty of not understanding the problem, you have to travel down potential paths that may not lead to the correct solution for you to truly understand the concept. And that time of struggle makes the lightbulb moment all the more worth it.
Watching these movies is what makes me dream. Whether or not I ever have the opportunity to engage in something as big as what Katherine or Eleanor accomplished, I do not know. But I do know that I do not want to live a life of regrets. I want to be the type of person to pursue a goal with full determination and resolve. I want to be willing to take a risk, and go after something I really want.