Tuesday, May 5, 2009



(Although I have never given a commencement speech or a valedictory address, about this time every year I get the urge to write one. Here’s this year’s.)

I believe that all too few of those students who graduate from college have actually learned the secret of college.

Most graduates remain bemused by the same beguiling reasons that drew them initially to attend college:
  1. the presumed guarantee that their possession of a college diploma would parley into a higher level of lifetime earnings
  2. the prospect of moving up the social ladder and living among a “better class” of people
  3. the promise of enjoying “the best four years of your life” with minimum responsibilities and maximum partying, the last fling of carefree adolescence before the lockdown of adult responsibilities
  4. and some other fallacious myths that you can no doubt enumerate for yourself.
But only those true students who “get it” have discovered the simply stated secret of a genuine college education, the object of which is to know, think and perform more and better.

College is about knowing more and knowing better. The subjects of the various “academic disciplines” in college offer you the culled knowledge of “the best that has been thought and said in the world,” in Matthew Arnold’s famous phrase. Why settle for gossip, headlines, tabloid trivia, and hearsay when scholarship has worked to discover and determine the most valuable and dependable knowledge? Become a better scholar.

College is about thinking more and better. In college studies you can follow the model of your professors and mentors who teach you how to read, research, write and converse according to the manners and methods of the disciplines in whose discourses they are expert. Become a better thinker.

College is about practicing and improving your learning and thinking until your level of performance grows proficient, not only in the general skills of academic scholarship and in the acquisition of that general knowledge which befits a person of higher education, but most particularly with respect to your special fields of study, your major and minor subject areas. Become a better performer.

Which is to say: learn, think and act like a true collegian.