Commencement Wisdom on the Road
On college and university campuses across the country this spring we have heard endless commencement speakers urge young graduates not to be afraid to fail, this being the advice de jour for an economy in which jobs are scarce and opportunities in short supply. Take chances they are told, but don’t despair. The advice may be sensible but the effect is depressing, spoiling the mood of what should be a significant milestone, a real passage on the journey. So, what would be a more encouraging message?
Driving down to New York on the Thruway, I spotted a bumper sticker that read LEARN TO LIVE, LIVE TO LEARN, and since I was stuck behind this SUV for a few miles, I got to thinking about this rather mundane message until it gradually seemed less and less banal.
First, it needed the word THEN in there. We learn to live and THEN we might be able to live to learn. And I thought about the graduate students that I have taught at UPR, many of whom were in mid-life and had careers, families, and rich experience learning how to live and were now devoting time to learn. And I thought about the coming undergraduate candidates coming into the new Completion Program who, I would imagine, are still learning to live, wanting to finish their BA and make their way in the world, those who have had to leave school to work, or who found their studies unrewarding for any number of good reasons.
Second, that sound bite does not adequately describe what it really means to live to learn. Once we get the first part, acquire the skills and experience to handle what life demands of us, and we master the skills of managing each day, month and year, and we learn what it means to be loving, responsible, and competent human beings, it may be time to use that knowledge and those skills to learn even deeper things: who we are, why we are here, and what, if anything, does this life mean.
The wisdom traditions assembled eighty years ago here in Los Angles by Manly Hall and others address these questions. And what is most significant about that founding and then later the establishment of a degree-granting program, was the inclusion of the word RESEARCH, which means to investigate carefully, to inquire systematically, to engage in the discovery of the truth of reality, and indeed, to learn to live.
And so it comes full circle. We learn to live, find time and opportunity to live to learn and if we’re fortunate, we learn to live more wisely. And if we’re truly fortunate, we can pass along what we have learned and how we have learned to a new generation. And lest we take ourselves too seriously we are brought into the moment behind that SUV by Woody Allen who said, “I know there’s another world, but I want to know how far it is from mid-town and how late it stays open.”
Richard Geldard Ph.D.
Dean of Undergraduate Studies, UPR