Good luck and choose now to end well

I’m using my last column of the year to summarize remarks I made to the December graduates. In that address I suggested that it was not too early for students to think about how their biographies will be written. If finishing well is important to you, it makes sense to think about what you should do now to get where you want to be then. I’d like to highlight three things that you should have gotten from your experience here at Trinity that can help you finish well.

First, recognize that your education does not have to end. True, much of what you learned will not add anything to your 401K or your prospects for promotion. But your life will be more colorful if you can see the connection between “The Matrix” and Plato’s “Republic,” or understand that “Forbidden Planet” is a science-fiction gloss on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

When you read for pleasure—and you aren’t liberally educated if you DON’T read for pleasure—insert something timeless into your queue. Make every 10th book something written over 100 years ago. Listen to music that takes up more than four minutes on your iPod—something that is complex and demands sustained attention. Do something crazy and go on a social-media fast, and learn the disciplines of solitude and contemplation.

In turn, your life will be more enriched. You will have taken the intellectual feast you have been privileged to consume these past few years and sustained it throughout your entire life. The experience of reading a book that changed the way you thought about things doesn’t have to end here.

Second, recognize that the habits of education should not end. One habit you have been encouraged to develop here is openness to new data. Socrates understood that the more you know, the more you should realize you DON’T know. We teach you to question things and search for answers. So, don’t stop questioning things, and don’t stop searching for answers! Don’t think that the final word has been given by your favorite talk-radio host or blogger. Instead, take a look at different sides and draw conclusions only after careful examination of facts and logic.Being open to new data doesn’t mean you can’t have firm principles or convictions—it just means you are always open to better arguments. If you are not open to new data and new arguments, you are saying that the habits of education developed here are not transferrable to “real life.”

Several  years ago, students in one of my classes were having a vigorous discussion about some hot-button issue. Finally, one exasperated student exclaimed that the whole exercise was futile because, “No one’s going to change their mind!” The resistance to being persuadable is the victory of pride over truth. None of us should be so dogmatic that we refuse to consider the possibility we are wrong.

That’s what living a self-examined life means—being willing to change your mind when presented with a superior argument.

Third, recognize that the virtues acquired in the educational process—far more important than the course content—do not end. Every time you pushed through the various tasks articulated on a course syllabus, you demonstrated diligence. Every time you figured out how to juggle two or three exams in one day, you demonstrated perseverance. Every time you chose not to give up after a set-back in class, but instead fought through the desire to quit, you demonstrated endurance.

Just about anything really worth doing in life takes diligence, perseverance and endurance. When you complained about seemingly irrational course expectations, or the collision of multiple assignments due on the same day—just wait until the day comes when you have an argument with your spouse, a kid struggling with algebra, a car that breaks down, a less-than-desirable medical diagnosis and a boss who tells you the report is due a day earlier than you expected.

I gently suggest that education should be difficult because LIFE is difficult. In fact, without these qualities it’s impossible to end well.

I realize that it’s a bit strange that I would presume to write about ending well when I have yet to do so. But the odd thing about ending well is that, once you’ve done it, it’s too late to give advice about it. So good luck to all. Choose now to end well.