Congratulations on graduating high school! Your Auntie and I are very proud of you. I hope that you are excited about the next chapter in your life. We are. As you enjoy this transition moment, permit me to offer some avuncular advice. Some of it is advice I wish someone had given me when I stood where you are now.
You are about to embark upon a great adventure, and in a great city to boot. This is a tremendous opportunity, and I would encourage you to take advantage of it. Much as when you were a young child, this is a season of exploration, an opportunity to learn more about the world around you. Take it in. Relish the sights, and sounds and smells.
Try also to take advantage of the attractions of the city. It’s not as easy to do as you would think. Your studies will take up much of your time. But do go out to see a show or a museum. Sample some of the different foods on offer. I’m sure your auntie will be more than happy to help. And she knows the city.
But for all the new horizons to explore, do not be in a rush. Take some time to reflect on what you are experiencing. This is a time to ask questions. The truth is, while you have been primed to master answers, you will do better to master questions, for those will in time yield the right answers. Possessing answers without knowing the questions will only confuse you into believing that you know, when you don’t.
This is also a time for making mistakes. Don’t be afraid of them. You are going to make them despite every effort to avoid them. That said, don’t do anything knowingly stupid.
You will be meeting people from all over, with very different experiences from you. Get to know some of these people. Ask them questions. I suspect that if you ask most college graduates, what they will remember fondly are the late nights spent talking with other students about the questions great and small. Does Man have free will? Was the Designated Hitter a good idea, or should pitchers bat? Who makes the best pizza? Long after you forget most of the things you’ve learned in class, you will remember those conversations.
It’s a shame really, that education has become about preparing you for work. That is important, of course, but college is a really lousy way of accomplishing this. You will learn most of what you need to do your job on the job. Forty years ago, most jobs still only required a high school diploma, and many men and women achieved successful careers without one.
Education comes from the Latin root, e ducare, which means “to lead out of,” as in to lead an injured person out of harm’s way. As applied, the phrase can be understood in two ways. First, it is the process by which we are led out of ignorance. This is really a lifelong endeavor, so it becomes important to understand how to learn, and how to apply what you’ve learned.
The other understanding is where I want to focus. Education can also be the process of drawing out something within you. I could be the statue that resides in the block of marble, or the book or painting that first hatches in the mind of the artist. Seen in this way, education becomes the process of becoming more fully a person. A good educator is able to see that “person” and will work to bring her out. In time, we hopefully come to recognize ourselves and strive to become more consciously ourselves.
With that in mind, take the time to take classes in subjects that interest you or might help you become more yourself. You have an opportunity to consult with experts that you may not have again. Learn something about art, or music, philosophy or religion. Or maybe it’s the social sciences that pique your interest, where you learn to better understand people. Don’t try to channel all of your energies into one narrow range of topics. Look to fill yourself out in knowledge and understanding.
I hope you will choose to share with us at least a glimpse of what you will be seeing and experiencing. I took up writing when I went off to college, sharing with family and friends what I was doing, some of what I was learning, and some of what I was thinking. I especially treasure the letters I received back from my grandparents, and the silly post-cards my father sent me. I’ve saved all of them. Now that my grandparents are dead, those letters are a piece of them that lives on.
But I have probably detained you long enough. This is your day to celebrate, and these are just the prolix ponderings of your sentimental uncle who loves you and wishes you well. Congratulations again on a job well done. May you continue to blossom and flourish in this next chapter of your life.