[On Wednesday evening I delivered a brief talk, entitled “Lives Worthy of the Sacrifice,” as part of our Cum Laude and National Honor Society Induction Ceremony at The Westminster Schools. While I worked on the speech, I made one false start.
Given that I am headed toward my 25th college reunion at The University of the South in Sewanee, TN this weekend, I thought it timely to post a fragment from that early, and now aborted, draft. What follows are its first three paragraphs.]
Right after this ceremony I will drive to Sewanee, TN for my twenty-fifth college reunion. I distinctly remember alumni weekends when I was in college when a bunch of old folks would roll into town and onto campus. To me, most of these people seemed goofy, hyper-nostalgic, and awkward. They walked around campus as if they were getting used to gravity again after a long time spent in space. They seemed uptight, they often laughed too loud, and many talked too much. They were like some rare breed of five-year cicadas that showed up to make everyone uncomfortable for a brief time before disappearing again.
Recognizing that my undergraduate feelings toward this crowd of alumni were more than ungenerous, I see now that I was in dire need some sort of attitude adjustment about these good people who cleared their calendars just so they could return to a place, their college, their alma mater, that held such powerful and lasting meaning to them—and time has provided me just such an attitude adjustment, time has likely provided it for your parents, and the smart money says that time will provide it for you. The adjustment is centered in this: given that life is hard, yet endlessly rich with challenge and possibility, we each need friends, passion, and humility to endure and to excel. Tying ourselves to the institutions and people that have nurtured us and sustained us is an expression of need, love, and gratitude. Going back to a school for a reunion is a return to a familiar place in the midst of our lives that are forever changing.
Economists and Politicians are always looking for leading indicators, those measures that tend to predict the future accurately. It is possible that gaining membership in the National Honor Society is one of these leading indicators, but truth be told, I am more certain of the efficacy of another indicator: curiosity.
[At this point in the talk, I planned to point out a statistic about curiosity I heard during a meeting of school heads and CFOs from independent schools at a meeting I recently attended. According to the research presented at the meeting, there is at least as great a correlation, if not a greater correlation, between measures of curiosity and college success as there is between the SAT test and college success. When I look back at my education, and its continuing trajectory, I intuitively sense that this is true, and I am certain that curiosity is the factor that drives us forward as life-long learners. It is not just in knowing that we are educated, but in knowing to ask more and again more. When I get back to the Mountain this weekend, I know I will find old friends who remain readers, questioners, arguers. I will find people who are deeply engaged in their communities. I will find people who are actively and purposefully learning and endlessly curious. The undergraduates are likely to see us as goofy, hyper-nostalgic, and awkward, but I will know we are at least goofy, hyper-nostalgic, awkward, and curious. Maybe I’ll come back to this thought at next year’s ceremony.]