OPINION: Turn your frown upside down, embrace your area requirements

A drawing of a smiling clown dressed in blue and purple with a cone hat.
(Gerrit Punt • The Student Life)

The night before my first Theatrical Clown class, all I felt was annoyance towards Pomona College’s area requirements that forced me to take a class as outlandish as Theatrical Clown. In the end, the joke’s on me: I had no way of knowing how much I would get out of the experience. 

This is exactly the problem many students face when it comes to branching outside of their comfort zone for classes: once a student develops their specific interests, the area requirements too easily become an annoyance because they continue to push students toward exploration. 

I knew nothing about theatrical clowns prior to this course. What could a clown class possibly look like? What do I do if I’m uncomfortable performing in front of other people? The concept was incredibly bizarre to me. I allowed my preconceived notion that clowns had no depth to dictate my perception and attitude toward the eccentric course.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my judgment. The area requirements are part of the liberal arts experience and encourage students to explore an array of courses. My frustration was the same as that of my peers — being forced to oblige what many consider unnecessary requirements. But for me, Theatrical Clown has been more than what meets the eye. 

I’ve come to learn that clowning is much more mainstream and universal than the public perceives it to be. The art of clownery focuses on challenging the universal need for perfection and uniformity. Clowns shamelessly display fallibility, a universal experience. Fear of failure contributes to anxiety and poor mental health. Clowns are combating this common dread of messing up through their art form. 

Theatrical Clown has reframed my perspective on failure. In class, professor Ernie Gonzalez, Jr. had expressed his fear of bringing the Theatrical Clown course to Pomona College. He knew that the students of 5Cs are high achievers that may not have the best relationship with failure, but his desire to enlighten the 5C community with the transformative life lessons clowning has to offer pushed him to take a chance. With tears in his eyes, he described how moved he was at how our class has not only absorbed but embraced every quirky lesson.

Throughout the course, my self-confidence in daily life has flourished. Within the first two weeks, I shifted from a state of nervousness in the basic actor warm-up to performing tasks that I genuinely fail at, including playing the electric guitar after never touching one. This class that began as just fulfilling a requirement has proven to me that those moments of discomfort in an unfamiliar situation are the areas where everyone experiences the most growth. I have found myself utilizing this lesson within and outside of academics — in other classes, lacrosse and job settings. I am more eager to immerse myself in experiences outside of my comfort zone. I can’t imagine that I would have looked at Theatrical Clown twice if it were not for the Pomona area requirements. 

So, what does this mean for you? Sure, maybe it won’t be a clown class, but broadening your horizons to all and any different areas allows you to find appreciation and respect for all subjects, no matter how much they deviate from your own interests. 

Just because an area looks like it would clash with your own interests does not mean that you could not benefit or grow from taking time to find appreciation for it and its community.

Now instead of looking back on my arts area requirement as an annoyance, I know I will be forever indebted to the Pomona area requirements for opening my eyes to an art form I barely knew existed before this semester. So make like a clown and turn your frown upside down, so you can immerse yourself in all the once-in-a-lifetime classes we have access to. 

Tess McHugh PO ’25 is from Denver, CO. She enjoys listening to Kendrick Lamar, spending time on the Kiawah Island beach and holding her cat, Cookie.

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