Language teacher explains existentialism

By Allegra Tepper

“Explaining it in 40 minutes is preposterous,” French teacher Simona Ghirlanda told the seniors signed up for the seminar, “Hell is Other People: An Introduction to Existentialism.”

Merriam-Webster defines it as “a chiefly 20th century philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centering on analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad.”

Ghirlanda took a more personal approach to defining it.

“[Studying existentialism] teaches you to be a more decent person,” she said. “You become aware of the fact that we are hell for someone else just by looking at them and judging them.”

Ghirlanda said that after a threatening note was left in a gay student’s backpack almost two weeks ago, she knew teaching this seminar was meant to be.

“To the existentialists, someone who leaves an anonymous note might as well be invisible,” Ghirlanda said. “You are assuming a position of nonexistence.”

Ghirlanda explained that while the concept might seem like an extremely intellectual belonging to the past, it’s less remote than we think and is actually around us every day.

“If I helped and made just one person think about being less judgmental today, then I’ve done my part,” she said.