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
"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
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.