I find it amazing that sometimes when I read something it is so relevant and perfectly timed to what is happening in my life. This school year, for the first time in my long teaching career, I teach only seniors. One hundred and ten of them. I have only eight more school days with this group of talented young people. What do I tell them as my farewell?
Right now, as I am reading Ann Patchett’s collection of essays This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, I came across the piece “The Right to Read”, her convocation address to freshmen in college. In it, she says that “. . . higher education is a privilege and a choice” and “A college education is about expansion. It’s about seeing many different viewpoints, hearing many different voices.” She also says that in college “You will find that the more you learn, the more complicated things get, because you will have the intelligence to recognize many aspects of a single idea. You will learn to use your mind in the way an athlete uses her body. You will stretch and strengthen and grow.” “Take responsibility for your lives and your minds and ask that others respect your integrity.” And she quotes the poet and essayist Adrienne Rich, who in her convocation address entitled “Claiming an Education”, wrote the following:
Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts. . . . Responsibility to yourself means that you don’t fall for shallow and easy solutions – predigested books and ideas . . . taking “gut” courses instead of ones you know will challenge you, bluffing at school and life instead of doing solid work. . . . This means seeking out criticism, recognizing that the most affirming thing anyone can do for you is demand that you push yourself further, show you the range of what you can do.”
To all one hundred and ten of you: Thanks for the great year. Keep growing and take great responsibility for yourself. Good luck in college and beyond.