Essential Information for the College Bound -- Summer 2010



Soledad O'Brien

Related Links:

History for Dollars
by David Brooks

A Classical Education:
Back to the Future

by Stanley Fish

Why Liberal Education Matters
by Peter Berkowitz

Responses to
Peter Berkowitz's article

Which School?

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the rest of your life.

Taking The Next Step
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Not all who wander are lost, so Tolkien has told us. And so I am reminded each time I wear one of my favorite Life is Good t-shirts to enjoy some leisure time activity. So I was particularly pleased to hear these words from Soledad O'Brien, CNN anchor, recently, as she accepted the challenge of writing to her 17 year old self, 17 years later. What did she wish she had known then that she knows now?

"There is opportunity - and sometimes joy - in chaos and the unknown. . . Open up the door to a little more uncertainty! Honestly, it's not a weakness to live this way."

As my students in the class of 2010 prepare to go off to college, some have a planned road map to their future. Others do not. To all I say, it is good to have a plan; however, that plan might change --- one time or more. If there is no plan, as yet, there is time to develop one. Go to college allowing for uncertainty.

Open the door to your future by exploring a broad spectrum of academic possibilities. A blended education in the humanities and pre-professional studies can co-exist. Courses in the humanities open our minds to history, literature, philosophy, science and the arts, helping us find our place in the world before us currently and to gain a view to the future. Courses in business and technology, in engineering, in architecture, by way of example, provide us with practical life skills.

College is huge financial commitment. It is no wonder that parents are concerned about their students preparing for a self-sustaining career. Careers that happen, however, are often not the ones that were initially anticipated. Education that teaches a student to think, to analyze, to communicate, to relate to people in great variety is essential to all career paths.

Recently there have been a number of articles discussing the value of a liberal arts education. One written by Michael Roth, the president of Wesleyan College, reflects on the practicality of a broadly based education. Some excerpts of his thoughts:

"Patient and persistent critical inquiry has never been more crucial, and the development of this capacity is one of the defining features of a liberal education. . . Given the pace of technological and social change, it no longer makes sense to devote four years of higher education entirely to specific skills. By learning how to learn, one makes one's education last a lifetime. What could be more practical. . . Those who can imagine how best to reconfigure existing resources and project future results will be the shapers of our economy and culture. Let's hope their education includes the ability to think reflexively so as to reexamine continually the direction they've chosen and the assumptions they've used. . . Inquiry is never finished. Educators in the liberal arts aim to develop habits of mind that thrive on ambiguity and that foster combinations of focus and flexibility, criticism and courage."

It is unlikely that Soledad O'Brien knew she would be a CNN anchor when she majored in English Literature at Harvard, while taking a pre-med curriculum. Her science background prepared her for her first job as a medical reporter at WBZ-TV Boston. That job, led to a career in journalism, very different from her intended career in medicine.

The world of today demands flexibility from those choosing career paths --- more than was demanded of Soledad O'Brien. Rapidly changing technologies, globalization of world economies, changing corporate practices, the evolution of new forms of energies are but a few of the realities that will require adaptation to new challenges.

Students who develop the ability to think critically and solve new problems, who possess the intellectual capacity for ongoing learning, and who recognize it as a necessity, should have the tools to meet those challenges. Surely, there may be uncertainty as college unfolds. There may be uncertainty at different times in your life beyond college. Hopefully, though, college will provide the nourishment that will enable you, the class of 2010, to manage life's challenges. And as you move into the future, I encourage you to wander without feeling lost.