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Summer Program Blog

Summer Program Blog

July 14,

The 2018 Summer Program prefects with Summer Program Director Brian Dragoo and Admissions Director Jon Daly The 2018 Summer Program prefects with Summer Program Director Brian Dragoo and Admissions Director Jon Daly

Dear parents,

Greetings from Thomas Aquinas College! I hope you are well and enjoying your summer.

Thank you for sending your children tomorrow! We very much look forward to welcoming some 140 students from 32 states as well as Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Germany, Lithuania, and New Zealand!

As we make our final preparations to welcome everyone here, I wanted to let you know that students who are flying in will be met at their baggage claim by members of our Summer Program staff, wearing the red TAC t-shirts you see in the above photo. For those who will be arriving by car, we ask to please arrive on campus between 12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. 

Throughout the program, the Summer Program Blog will feature regular updates, usually twice a day, including photos, slideshows, and stories about what’s going on, both inside the classroom and out. Please feel free to share the link with any friends and/or family who may be interested in knowing what your children are up to. You can also receive notifications of updates to the blog by following us on Facebook or Twitter.

I hope you will not hesitate to be in touch with any questions anytime — you can reach me by email or by phone (805-421-5901). Should you need to contact us for any travel-related reason tomorrow, the College’s phone line will be open from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. (805-525-4417).

We look forward to keeping in touch. God bless you and your family.


Jon Daly
Director of Admissions

July 13,

Meg Downes (’20)

College Governor R. James Wensley has sent in the above photo of 2018 Summer Prefect Meg Downes (’20), taken earlier this summer, when Meg and her parents visited the Wensleys at their longtime summer home in Michigan. Clearly Meg will be ready for beach day, watermelon water polo in the campus ponds, and any other aquatic activities that may occur at this year’s High School Summer Program!

It’s worth noting that Mr. Wensley and his wife, Germaine, provided the funds for the design and development of the College’s current website, which hosts this Summer Blog — where updates and photos from the program will appear constantly throughout the next two weeks. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Wensley!

Below is the final installment in our three-part series introducing the prefects for this year’s High School Summer Program. (See Part 1 and Part 2.)

Veronica Jost (’17) Veronica Jost (’17)Yesterday’s prefect introductions concluded with John Jost (’17), and today’s begins with his sister, Veronica (’20), a rising junior from Algonquin, Illinois. In 2015 Veronica attended the program as a student and she made dear friends with whom she remains in regular contact. “My favorite thing about my Summer Program was how many wonderful and inspiring people I got to meet, from my fellow attendees to the staff and prefects themselves,” she says. “The feeling of the complete greatness of a real Catholic culture overwhelmed me.” At this year’s program, she looks forward to “meeting more great people” and “sharing the beauty and fun that I experienced at my own Summer Program.”

Joe Daly (’19) Joe Daly (’19)If you have spent any time on the Thomas Aquinas College website over the last three years, you have likely seen Joe Daly (’19 ), a rising senior from Berwyn, Illinois. He’s the tall fellow who appears in most plays, directs others, and helps lead the annual trip to the Walk for Life West Coast (along with fellow prefect Meg Downes). “I love that the Summer Program makes the discussion method and the great books so accessible to high school students who are trying to figure out their next big step in life,” he says. “I almost didn’t enroll at TAC. I was ready to sign on the dotted line at another university to study music until I visited for the first time. The classes blew me away then, and continue to do so now.”

Rachel Rivera (’19) Rachel Rivera (’19)When she attended the Summer Program as a student in 2014, Rachel Rivera (’19) of Kendall Park, New Jersey, “fell in love with the school, especially the spiritual life and the study of Euclid.” She even used to joke — whenever asked why she was choosing Thomas Aquinas College — that it was “60 percent Jesus and 40 percent proving the square!” Now, as a second-time prefect, she aims to share what she has learned with the high school students. “Working the Summer Program is really wonderful because I get to see so many new people come and take the first few steps of this journey,” she says. “I love watching students get excited about the great books and the Discussion Method, and knowing that their lives — whether they know it or not — are going to be changed forever!”

George Stypa (’21) George Stypa (’21)Attending the High School Summer Program as a student in 2016 made such an impression on George Stypa (’21) of Tucson, Arizona, that he actually passed up a scholarship from another school in order to attend Thomas Aquinas College. “It was one of the highlights of my life,” he says. “It not only allowed me to delve deeper into some of the greatest minds of Western civilization, but also allowed me to meet some very exceptional people.” Among his favorite memories was the student-prefect basketball game. “I am very excited now that I have been ‘drafted’ to the prefect team!” he jokes, adding that he’s looking forward to experiencing the Summer Program from the “other side” as a first-time prefect.

Zoe Appleby (’18) Zoe Appleby (’18)A member of the College’s newest graduating class, Zoe Appleby (’18) of Santa Paula, California, “can’t wait to return” for this, her fourth year as a Summer Program prefect. She attended the program while in high school and “fell in love” with the College’s unique curriculum and teaching method. Her favorite program authors are Euclid, Fabre, Flannery O’Connor, and Søren Kierkegaard. She has always been passionate about museums, art, and beauty, and she wrote her Senior Thesis on “The Beauty of the Crucifixion.” This fall she will continue her studies in a medieval art history master’s program. When not studying the great books or art history, Zoe enjoys rock climbing, swimming at the beach, oil painting, and reading poetry. She reports that she is “extremely looking forward” to the Summer Program’s trip to the Getty Center.

Andrew Rossi (’13) Andrew Rossi (’13)Returning for his sixth year is Andrew Rossi (’13), a native of Bakersfield, California. A graduate of the College, Andrew works at St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, California, where he teaches logic, geometry, history, and chemistry. “My favorite part of the program,” he says, “is interacting with the students and listening to their first thoughts on the great books.” In past years he has overseen the Summer Program’s athletic competitions, a role he looks forward to taking up once again. “I am very excited for the sports,” he notes, “especially the basketball game between the prefects and the students.”

Shelby Heaton (’21) Shelby Heaton (’21)This past fall, Shelby Heaton (’21) of Kalispell, Montana, enrolled at Thomas Aquinas College as the age of 26, making her the senior member of the Freshman Class. She had intended to apply when she was 19 but was, she admits, “complacent and intimidated.” Seven years of working as a waitress and as her parish’s director of religious education, however, led her to realize that the fruits of a Catholic liberal education would outweigh the sacrifices. “I’m loving being here,” she says. “It’s really hard, but I’m not scared. I have a peace of mind because, for all that it took to get me here, this must be where God wants me.” Her advice to Summer Program students: “Be packed 24 hours before you travel, and sleep as much as you can beforehand!”

Dillon Raum (’21) Dillon Raum (’21)It’s been a great summer for Dillon Raum (’21) of Anthem, Arizona. First he went to Rome as part of a singing tour with a men’s choir, The Floriani, composed of Thomas Aquinas College students and alumni (including Joe Daly). And now he’s coming to Santa Paula for his first-ever Summer Program! “I hope to make lots of great memories this summer,” he says. As a rising sophomore, he has some practical experience to share with the high school students. “Try not to split the program into two parts: the classes, and the ‘fun stuff,’” he advises. “Keep thinking and talking about the ideas and conversations from class while you’re having fun, and have some fun in class!” He’s looking forward to sharing the “TAC culture” with the summer visitors, and “can’t wait to see all the high-schoolers learn to swing dance!”

Maggie Dillon (’21) Maggie Dillon (’21)“I attended the Summer Program two years ago, and it was life-changing,” says Maggie Dillon (’21), a rising sophomore from Lunenburg, Massachusetts. “I met some of the best people I have ever met and had some of the best times. In just two weeks my intellectual life, my spiritual life, and my social life took a turn for the better.” Returning for the first time as a prefect, she is now eager to pass along that experience to this year’s students. “I am really looking forward to being a part of it again,” she says. “I am very excited to make new friends and to be with them through this incredible experience. These upcoming two weeks are going to be so much fun, and I cannot wait!”


Yesterday we began a three-part series introducing the prefects for this year’s High School Summer Program. Below is part 2:

Thomas Cain (’18) Thomas Cain (’18)A member of the College’s newest graduating class, Thomas Cain (’18) of Santa Paula, California, is returning for his fourth Summer Program. “I cannot wait,” he says, “because each year seems to get better.” He is most looking forward to reading and discussing the texts, as well as playing in the volleyball tournament. “Give all of yourself to the program,” he advises students. “Even if you don’t end up becoming a freshman here, these two weeks will change your life.” At summer’s end, Thomas plans to backpack in Europe for three months, and then hopes to begin studying for the priesthood. “Keep me in your prayers,” he says. “You all are in mine.”

Micaela McCall (’20) Micaela McCall (’20)Like fellow prefect Graham Crawley (’20), rising junior Micaela McCall (’20) of Denver, Colorado, was a “second-time freshman” who enrolled at the College after first studying elsewhere. “I spent a year at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati before converting to Catholicism and ‘transferring’ to TAC,” she explains. “My heart longed for a bigger conversation, one about the leading philosophies of Western civilization, the relationship between God and man, and the works of literature that stand out as the best for giving such a vibrant depiction of humanity.” The Summer Program, she finds, offers students a wonderful opportunity to enter that bigger conversation. “See the classes as simply an extension of your life,” she says, “where you get to seek answers for questions that matter to you.”

Joseph Guinee (’21) Joseph Guinee (’21)Although a first-time prefect, rising sophomore Joseph Guinee (’21) of North Andover, Massachusetts, is a Summer Program veteran, having attended as a high school student in 2016. “My favorite memory was sitting outside the Hollywood Bowl, eating pizza with the great friends I had met,” he recalls. “I’m looking forward to seeing this year’s students read the great books, and to see how that experience will spark in them a desire to seek truth and read yet more great books!” In his spare time, Joseph enjoys cooking, photography, and dancing. His advice for the Summer Program students: “Get plenty of sleep, and talk with everybody you can.”

Siena Hsu (’18) Siena Hsu (’18)After graduating from the College this spring, Siena Hsu (’18) spent the beginning of the summer with the family of fellow prefect Seamus O’Brien (’20) in Wisconsin, “planting seeds, fishing, milking cows, sausage-making, and generally getting a very un-Californian experience.”  She has also been hard at work on her design portfolio, and she hopes to soon land a job as an in-house designer for a publishing company. This year marks her second as a Summer Program prefect and her first as a Catholic, having entered the Church at this spring’s Easter Vigil. “I love running and hiking,” she says. “And would love to do both with any students who are interested!”

Helen Blain (’20) Helen Blain (’20)Four years ago, Helen Blain (’20), then a rising high school junior, made the trip from her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Santa Paula for the Thomas Aquinas College High School Summer Program. Four years later — and now a rising junior at the College — she is serving for the second time as a program prefect. Expect to see her often on the athletic field: She enjoys any and all sports, especially rock climbing and soccer. She greatly looks forward “to getting to know all the students,” adding that she is “super excited” because her sister will be one of them. “Wear sunscreen,” she recommends. “And if you truly dedicate yourselves to the readings, the classes will be even more enjoyable and engaging!”

Daniel Selmeczy (’08) Daniel Selmeczy (’08)A teacher at St. Monica Academy in Pasadena, California, Daniel Selmeczy (’08) is best known as the Summer Program’s dance instructor, turning neophytes into skilled dancers in time for the end-of-the-program dance. Now returning for his eleventh year as a prefect, he marvels at how he came to attend the College at all. “I was an atheist and was accepted to study marine biology at UC Santa Barbara when I first visited TAC,” he recalls. “During that visit, I fell in love with the program and was accepted to attend as a freshman that same year. Within a year I had converted to Catholicism, which to this day has been the single greatest blessing of my entire life.” His favorite memories of past years’ programs are the conversations in the dorms and, not surprisingly, the dance lessons.

Meg Downes (’20) Meg Downes (’20)“I’m very extroverted and love getting to meet new people, and then really getting to know them,” reports Meg Downes (’20), a rising junior from Hickory Corners, Michigan. As one might guess, she is eager to meet the students on this year’s Summer Program. Indeed, this second-year prefect’s favorite memory of last year’s Summer Program was the opening-night ice-breakers, from which sprung countless new friendships. “This is the last group of high schoolers who, if they come to the College as students, will be here at the same time as my class,” she observes, noting that she would be a senior during this group’s freshman year. Meg loves volleyball and anticipates some intense matches on the College’s courts during afternoon recreation time.

John Jost (’17) John Jost (’17)When he was in high school, John Jost (’17) strongly considered going to college on a swimming or baseball scholarship — until he attended the High School Summer Program. “It changed my life,” he says. “And it’s the greatest decision I have made thus far.” During the program, he discovered that “there was something bigger in life than sports,” and that he “actually liked reading.” He is returning for his fourth year as a prefect while on vacation from his work as an account executive for a Fortune 1000 technology company. “I have learned so much from this job,” he says, “but the foundation and habits I developed at TAC gave me the opportunity and ability to succeed in the business world, right out of college.”

Stay tuned for Part 3 tomorrow!


The 2018 High School Summer Program is just four days away! The prefects for this year’s program — all students and recent graduates of Thomas Aquinas College — cannot wait to get to meet this year’s attendees. But until then, you can now “meet” them, virtually, through the following profiles (part one of three):

Kathleen Sullivan (’06) Kathleen Sullivan (’06)This year’s head prefect for women is Kathleen Sullivan (’06), a beloved teacher in Virginia who has contributed to many a Summer Program and is its greatest champion. She first attended as a high schooler, served as a prefect for two years while a student at the College, and then continued to serve for several more years while earning her master’s in English literature from the University of Dallas and a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America. “I’m still excited as I am every year to meet the students and work the program,” she says. “It’s always encouraging to go back to the same books year after year and discover new questions, new ideas, while still remaining grounded in their truths — this shows how timeless and endlessly rewarding it is to study the great books when guided by the light of Wisdom Himself.”

Graham Crawley (’20) Graham Crawley (’20)Serving as the men’s head prefect is Graham Crawley (’20), a rising junior from Scottsdale, Arizona. Graham came to the College as a second-time freshman in 2016 — that is, having already earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science, he decided to pursue a second undergraduate degree in order to experience the College’s program of Catholic liberal education. “Live the spirit of the school,” he advises this year’s Summer Program attendees. “And remember that men spend decades and more contemplating these very texts. You’re not expected to know, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. The mind that wonders flourishes.”

Nico Zwemke (’20) Nico Zwemke (’19)Returning for his fourth Summer Program — one as a student and three as a prefect — is Nico Zwemke (’19), a rising senior from Tempe, Arizona. His “favorite memory” of past Summer Programs, he says, is “the first time I saw a Van Gogh at the Getty Center.” And he offers some practical advice to this year’s programmers: “Bring sunscreen. I didn’t when I was a student, and I looked like a lobster after the trip to the beach — which is not a good look.”

Andrea Florez (’14) Andrea Florez (’14)When she’s not serving as a prefect for the High School Summer Program — something she has done for the last five years — Andrea Florez (’14) is a theology teacher and the campus minister at St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura, California. “The highlight of the Summer Program for me are the play performances and the talent show,” she says. “There is always some hidden talent that comes out, and it is great to see a different side of the students.” She adds that she is also looking forward to “reading and discussing the readings with the students and prefects. It gives me a chance to think about these things again!”

Alexis Pomietlo (’18) Alexis Pomietlo (’18)When she first arrived at the High School Summer Program four years ago, Alexis Pomietlo (’18) of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, had never before been to the College or participated in the classroom Discussion Method. Now a new graduate and in her third year as a prefect, she seeks to help students who also may be facing the unknown. “I hope to be someone the students can feel comfortable talking with, whether about their readings or just their experience of the College in general,” she says. “One of the most beautiful aspects of the program is witnessing the group come together and realizing there are people their age who also share the desire for the truth and love for the Lord.”

Seamus O'Brien (’19) Seamus O'Brien (’20)“St Augustine says that the truth is like a lion that only needs to be let loose, so let the truth loose!” says Seamus O’Brien (’20), a rising junior from Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, who is working his second Summer Program. “Throw yourself into the classroom discussions,” he urges this year’s attendees, whom he looks forward to getting to know by “playing sports and games, going on hikes, and having great conversations.” Fun fact: When Seamus was a boy, he longed to be an international man of adventure, à la Indiana Jones. “Even though I wasn’t afraid of snakes, I told myself that I should be afraid of them, since Indiana Jones was. And now I’m actually kind of afraid of them,” he admits.

Tom Cavanaugh (’18) Tom Cavanaugh (’18)A member of this year’s graduating class from Larkspur, California, Tom Cavanaugh (’18) is enjoying his last few months of quiet before he enters the busy world of law school at the University of Southern California (where he earned a 50 percent scholarship) this fall. In his free time, he has been coaching a U14 USA water-polo team, surfing, and mountain biking. Also, “on the nerdy side,” he notes, “I’ve really enjoyed following Supreme Court news by listening to podcasts while I ride my bike.” An alumnus of the program, he is excited for this year’s “Getty trip with the students, visiting their classes, and the prefect v. student basketball game.”

Sarah ABood (’20) Sarah Abood (’20)Three years ago Sarah Abood (’20) came to the Summer Program as a high school student, and her favorite memory from that experience was the Punch Bowl hike, specifically making friends with her peers along the trail. “Many laughs were had as we bonded,” she recalls. A rising junior from Cleveland, she is now serving as a prefect for the second time, and she can’t wait for “the various trips planned” as well as “showing the students just how fun the Summer Program can be.” She is especially eager to introduce students to the spiritual life of the College. “Take advantage of the opportunity to grow spiritually with our chaplains,” she encourages, “especially at daily Mass.”

Jack Blewett (’20) Jack Blewett (’20)“One of the greatest blessings in life is friendship,” reflects Jack Blewett (’20), “and the TAC Summer Program gave me some of the best friends I have.” A resident of Santa Paula, California, he has been working at the College this summer. On his days off, he has taken several trips to the beach with his family — which has whetted his appetite for the Summer Program’s beach day. “I also would love to get the students involved in the talent show,” he says, adding that he has high hopes for this summer’s program. “It's incredible what can happen in two weeks!”

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!


With the 2018 High School Summer Program less than a month away, we thought we would take a moment to introduce this year’s students to their tutors, who are all members of Thomas Aquinas College’s fulltime teaching faculty. Three of the tutors are themselves new to the College, and they will co-lead classes with seasoned faculty members.

Brian Dragoo Brian DragooBrian Dragoo came to the College in 1997 as a 25-year-old, married freshman, having previously earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering at the University of Arizona. He graduated as his Class Speaker in 2001 and joined the faculty in 2004. Now, after working 13 previous High School Summer Programs, he is serving in his first year as director. “Students should take the studies seriously,” he urges attendees, and “spend time outside of class thinking through the new ideas with friends and on your own.” He and his wife, Amy, have six daughters, the eldest three of whom will be students in this year’s program.

Thomas Kaiser Thomas KaiserWhat can Summer Program students expect from their two weeks on campus? “They should be prepared for a life-changing experience,” says Thomas Kaiser, “by reading wonderful works and having great conversations, by meeting future best friends, and by deepening their spiritual lives.” Mr. Kaiser knows whereof he speaks: He has participated in so many programs, starting with the first in 1997, that he has lost count of how many. A member of the College’s first graduating class, he earned a master’s in philosophy and a doctorate in biology at UCLA before returning to TAC as a tutor in 1982. He also holds the distinction of being the only member of the faculty, thus far, to have taught all 23 classes in the College’s classical curriculum.

Katherine Gardner Katherine Gardner In this, her fourth year as a tutor in the Summer Program, Katherine Gardner says she is most looking forward to “meeting a new section of bright, enthusiastic people to discuss some amazing things with for two weeks.” Miss Gardner holds a master’s degree in theology from the International Theological Institute and a doctorate in philosophy from Ave Maria University. This summer, when she is not leading Summer Program discussions, she will train for her first sprint distance triathlon. “Anyone with experience racing on land, water, or wheels,” she says, “is hereby invited to tell me everything I need to know over lunch!”

Phillip Wodzinski Phillip WodzinskiIn his 16 years as a member of the Thomas Aquinas College faculty, Phillip Wodzinski has taught in the Summer Program “about 10 times,” by his count, and he delights in the conversations about Euclid, Sophocles, and Plato. He is a graduate of Xavier University (Cincinnati), where he majored in philosophy, and he earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at Boston College. His advice to Summer Program attendees? “Between all the reading and conversing, be sure to get sufficient sleep.” And, “If you know other participants from before the program, be sure not to associate exclusively or even primarily with them; make the effort to meet and befriend others.”

Brian Kelly Brian KellyWhile attendees make their way to Thomas Aquinas College for the first day of the Summer Program on July 15, Brian Kelly plans to rise early and cheer for Argentina in the World Cup final. Should Argentina fail to make the final, however — or lose — he promises nonetheless to be in good spirits for the first day of classes on Monday. Moreover, he looks forward to “reading and discussing serious texts and deep questions” with his students. A graduate of the College, Mr. Kelly earned his masters and doctoral degrees at the University of Notre Dame. He and his wife Karen, are the parents of six and live in Santa Paula.

Travis Cooper Travis CooperA four-year veteran of the Summer Program, Travis Cooper earned his associate’s degree at St. Mary’s College, his bachelor’s at the College of St. Thomas More, and his master’s and doctorate at the Catholic University of America. He joined the faculty in 2012, and he and his wife, Briena, have five sons — the youngest of whom, Frederick, was born 13 days after his due date, and thus narrowly missed arriving when the Thomas Fire threatened the campus and their home last December. “Study diligently and converse regularly, both in and out of the classroom,” he advises his students. “Enjoy all the social activities, and pray fervently.”

Joseph Froula Josef FroulaThis year’s Summer Program will be a homecoming of sorts for Josef Froula, who graduated from the College in 1992 and is returning this fall as a member of the teaching faculty. Mr. Froula holds master’s degrees from Holy Apostles College and Seminary and California State University, Dominguez Hills, as well as a doctorate from Southern Connecticut State University. “After teaching high school for 5 years, I taught in seminaries at the undergraduate and graduate levels for the past 20,” he says. “I am really looking forward to working with high school students again, and I am excited about continuing my teaching career at TAC!”

Margaret Hughes Margaret HughesA fellow incoming member of the Thomas Aquinas College faculty, Margaret Hughes comes from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, where she spent the last six years as a professor of philosophy. She hold a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago, a master’s in education from Seton Hall, and two master’s and a doctorate in philosophy from Fordham University. “For the last 11 years I have lived in New York City,” she says. “So one of the things that I am looking forward to in moving to Santa Paula is being somewhere that is more restful for both the eyes and ears.”

Michael Rubin Michael RubinMichael Rubin is the third new member of the College’s faculty who will be serving on this year’s Summer Program. A graduate of Providence College, he holds master’s and doctoral degrees from The Catholic University of America, and he most recently served as a professor of philosophy at Christendom College. Mr. Rubin reports that he is “very excited to start using the Discussion Method with students,” to whom he offers the following advice: “We learn the most from our mistakes, so don’t be afraid to make them.” If you need to find him, just listen: He can often be heard singing sacred polyphony — or quoting The Simpsons.

Michael Letteney Michael Letteney“I really enjoy it when students whom I’ve taught in the High School Program come back to me a few years later in Junior Philosophy or Senior Theology,” says Michael Letteney, who is returning for his 14th year as a Summer Program tutor. “It’s rewarding to see the potential — and then the transformation.” He also witnesses that transformation at home, with five of his eight children having attended the program. Mr. Letteney and his wife, Marilyn (Ellis ’88), are both graduates of the College. He earned his masters and doctoral degrees in philosophy and the history and philosophy of science at the University of Notre Dame.

Stephen Shivone Stephen ShivoneReturning for his second year in the program is Stephen Shivone, an avid baseball fan with degrees from the College of St. Thomas More (B.A.) and the University of Dallas (Master’s and Ph.D.). “I love teaching great books to students at this age,” he says. “It’s often like assisting at the birth of wonder in a soul. It’s amazing how an encounter with these books can completely change a young person’s life.” A father of five, Mr. Shivone encourages his students to “read, read and re-read, for reading is a discipline as well as a pastime,” as well as to “cultivate a leisurely, contemplative attitude, especially in the discussions where the full truth of something often manifests itself gradually through turning it around and around and looking at it together in speech.”