By Evelyn Pitt-Stoller
Matthew Martello blushed and shook his head when approached with the idea that he is an extraordinary student.
"I'm not," he said with a laugh.
Contrary to Martello's humble demeanor, Professor Eric Dietrich, of Harpur College's Philosophy Department, raves about his student.
"Mr. Martello is interesting, clever and smart," Dietrich said. "He is one of our best undergraduates."
As a senior with majors in philosophy and history, Martello's interests lie within both the physical and metaphysical development of humanity. Although he knew since high school that he wanted to study history, he was not definite that philosophy was in the cards for him until he arrived at Harpur College.
"I wasn't sure until I took Introduction to Philosophy with Professor Dietrich," he said. "It was mind-opening — a whole new way of thinking about and looking at the world."
Martello's mind continued to expand as he left introductory courses behind and made the decision to seriously pursue philosophy.
"Matt Martello is very big on the truth," Dietrich said. "Philosophy is the study of truth, and Mr. Martello is the champion of inconvenient truths."
The way Martello views the world changed after his experience with philosophy at Harpur College: His contemplation of the answers to life's questions has become more definitive, as he is a strong believer in objective truths.
"The idea that there are relative truths," he said, "is itself an objective statement. If there's a question, there's an answer. Two plus two is four."
And although Martello clearly has a knack for math, these strong and unique beliefs have gotten him far as a student of philosophy. Not only does he stand out in the classroom, he has also been an active member of the Philosophy Club since his freshman year. He was elected treasurer his sophomore year, vice president his junior year, and president his senior year.
"We're not like debate or any of the clubs that compete and go on trips," Martello said of the Philosophy Club. "We do it because we like it. It's a room full of kids passionately discussing theories and ideas."
Similarly, Martello stated that his affinity for philosophy inside the classroom has much to do with the discussion-style format that the classes tend to take.
"It's hours of debating people's completely unique ideas," he said. "These things circulate through the classroom and either sync or clash. It's pretty interesting to watch and take part in."
Although Martello notices a similarity between his two studies of interest in that through both history and philosophy you get to see how people built their lives based on surrounding circumstances, he likes the opposition his majors have to one another.
"History is set in stone, but with philosophy you get so many different viewpoints," he said.
Besides the workload involved with his double major and his duties as president of the Philosophy Club, Martello — with the aspiration to one day become a lawyer — works avidly on law school applications. And despite the amount he takes on and the high praise he receives from his professors, Martello maintains that he is just a regular student.
"I work out, go downtown, and hang out with my friends," he said.
Martello both as a student and a person holds steadfast to his beliefs in the face of peers, professors, and even fellow philosophers.
"I'd say my favorite philosopher is Baruch Spinoza. He focuses on metaphysics and how the universe is," Martello said. "I don't think any of what he says is true, but I wish it was and it's very cool to explore."
Owing his success and enjoyment of his academic fields to certain classes and professors that Harpur College's Philosophy Department has to offer, Martello recommended philosophy to freshmen, students with undecided majors and anyone who simply wants to get involved in an interesting class. He praised the department as a whole, and shared a further fondness for Dietrich.
"If you want to give philosophy a chance, you have to take a class with Professor Dietrich," Martello said. "I once read on ratemyprofessors.com that someone wrote that if their dad were to drop dead right then and there, they'd put Dietrich next in line for the job. Harpur is lucky to have him."
Martello's journey as a critically thinking student won't end when he is handed his diploma from Harpur College in May. He will leave Harpur College having made his mark within the Philosophy Department, and it having made its mark on him as he moves on to his next phase of academia: law school.
"Philosophy has taught me a different way of thinking, and as a lawyer I plan to use that different way of thinking in order to get my desired outcome," he said.
Last Updated: 3/1/17