Dear Class of 2020,
I decided that it might be a good idea to write you this open letter, not because there is a shortage of people trying to give you advice at this important juncture in your life, but I think there is something that many people are going to forget to tell you.
University education is a wonderful thing, but we have a tendency to make it a means to an end. I know that if you had asked me in high school why I was going to college, I probably would have told you that I was going to college because I wanted to get a good job. I think many people go through college only planning on receiving a piece of paper that will get them to a particular career.
That certainly is a practical reason for going to college, and studies do show that people who go to college tend to earn more money. There is nothing wrong with going to college and ultimately receiving these benefits. However, ideas are the fundamental baseline of what a college education should be about.
Ideas ought to be challenged. Ideas ought to be examined. Ideas ought to be confronted. Ideas ought to be changed. Ideas ought to be modified.
College is the perfect opportunity to do that. You are doing life with other young people who are similarly grappling with big ideas. As an example, my freshman seminar in the Honors College at the University of Vermont was the first time I encountered an intellectually significant atheistic philosopher. Of course, I knew that skeptics existed, but this was something different.
By reading David Hume, I realized that there were people out there who brought heavy charges against the Christian faith, and I had to examine my ideas in light of this challenge. Ultimately, I did not end up changing my faith, but I was forced to be intellectually honest and pursue knowledge wherever it led. Could Hume be right?
That is of course the inconvenient and uncomfortable part of this entire system. We are not allowed to simply sit back and coast in neutral. By enrolling in an institute of higher education, you are requesting that someone teach you. You are requesting that ideas are presented to you. Professors, naturally doing the job they are hired to do, will tell you about their own area of expertise, and you might not like what they have to say.
You then have a choice. You have the idea that you held previously. You also potentially have this piece of new information that the professor is teaching you. You can’t just go with the flow because in this situation, the flow is pulling you in two separate directions. Our natural tendency is to resist change, but there is also a tendency to want to listen to those who speak with authority.
With neutral eliminated as a potential option, you actually have to do the unbelievable. You have to think. You have to decide whether or not these new ideas are better than the ones that you currently hold. If they are, then, if you want to be intellectually honest, you need to replace them. If they are not, then you don’t need to input them into your own worldview. However, the choice needs to be made, and you are the only one who is able to ultimately make that choice. Believe it or not, your professor might be wrong, so you cannot simply accept what they say blindly. You need to think.
Ideas can change the trajectory of your life. However, you do need to put forth the effort. You do need to be intellectually honest. If you meet both of those criteria though, you are in for the greatest adventure of your life. The marketplace of ideas is as rich as it is fascinating, and college gives you one excellent way to enter that conversation.
Class of 2020, your journey begins now. You can disregard everything I said, or you can actually take advantage of this gift you have been given. I wish you the best!