Menlo Students Discover the “Alchemy” of Success

Paulo Coelho's “The Alchemist” encourages readers to fulfill their dreams.

It's a message Menlo College hopes will spur freshmen to a successful career in school and beyond. The College is using the best-seller to provide inspiration, spur intellectual debate and even demonstrate how New Media can create a self-help phenomenon.

“The theme of 'The Alchemist' is what it means to grow up, and that's just what the freshman process is all about: growing up,” said Marilyn Thomas, a Menlo English professor and published author. “It's a story that has been told from time immemorial through myth, biography and novels.”

“The Alchemist” tells the story of a young shepherd who receives a vision directing him to the Egyptian pyramids. With the encouragement and advice of a gypsy and a desert inhabitant, he reaches the pyramid and discovers treasure.

Written much like a fable or fairy tale, “The Alchemist” is structured as a classic hero's journey where the protagonist receives a difficult task, perseveres against obstacles with the help of advisors and ultimately finds his true self, i.e. “the treasure.”

“By discovering the treasure, the hero has become complete,” Thomas said. “It is then time to share the wealth with others.”

Menlo faculty and staff shared the novel's “wealth” through a variety of methods. Incoming freshmen first received Coelho's message at freshman orientation sessions held during the first week of school. The young adults were encouraged to find their “personal legends,” a term Coelho uses to describe one's reason for living.

Bowman librarians took a less philosophic approach to the material and prepared an exhibition that explained how Coehlo successfully marketed “The Alchemist” and his other works through the Internet. The author is a strong proponent of New Media, and even encourages free downloads of select essays and books in his oeuvre as a means of promoting works available through more conventional means.

Finally, English professors like Thomas delivered lectures and assigned essays based upon the principles of “The Alchemist.” Students were also given copies of Thomas' account of an historical investigation, “The Diary: Sex, Death and God in the Affairs of a Victorian Cleric,” as a real-world example of Coelho's philosophy in action.

“We just want students to realize that there will always be obstacles,” she said. “The trick is to overcome those obstacles, to not give up!”