Student's Digest: A Guide For College Graduates
This story originally appeared in Philippine Panorama, May 14, 2006
The moment you walk up that stage marks the first day of the rest of your life. After the celebrations, you owe it to yourself to get a reality check. “It is in meditation that we form our judgments,” taught Chancellor Louis Finkelstein of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. “All of us acknowledge that we ought regularly to withdraw from the round of routine and renew ourselves.”
Try to find time to pause and reflect on these distilled wisdom from some of the most incisive minds of the past two centuries.
There is a world of difference between a university graduate and an educated man. In his essay College Uneducation, U.P. Dean Jorge Bocobo (b.1886) has identified the three insidious signs of a misspent college life.
First, the over-dependence on textbooks at the expense of critical judgment and sound reasoning. Some students “think nothing but to accumulate data; hence, their capacity for clear and powerful thinking is paralyzed. How pathetic to hear them argue and discuss!”
Second, the narrowing of the mind because of excessive over-specialization. “May we not, indeed, seriously ask whether this fetish of specialization does not smother the inspiring sense of beauty and the ennobling love of finer things?”
And third, the inability to define a set of values because of excessive training. “How can we lay down the terms of our philosophy of life if every one of our thoughts is absorbed by the daily assignment, the outside reading, and the laboratory experiment, and when we continuously devour lectures and notes?”
What then, are the marks of an educated man? In his essay What Is An Educated Filipino?, Francisco Benitez cites three distinguishing signs.
First, he should possess “The power to do” – essentially, the capacity to become a productive member of society. A housewife is no less than statesman in terms of service to the nation.
Second, an “acquaintance with the world’s progress, especially with that of his race, people and community, together with love of our best ideals and traditions.”An educated man has a sense of history, able to see himself in relation to the larger scheme of things.
And third, breeding. He has “ingrained in his speech and conduct those elements that everywhere recognized as accompaniments of culture and morality.”
In other words, an educated man is a gentleman.
So what else are the qualities of a gentleman? In his essay The Gentleman, John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) reveals a person every mindful of the feelings of those around him. “He guards against unreasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome.”
He is consistently considerate, “never takes unfair advantage,” He hates gossip, malice and revenge. He is a philosopher who accepts that pain, bereavement and death are inevitable.
If he becomes involved in conflict, his “disciplined intellect” shield him from discourtesy, mistaking the point in argument, wasting strength on trifles, misconception of the adversary, and leaving the question more involved than ever."
He may be wrong at times, “but he is too clear-headed to be unjust; he is as simple as he is forcible, and as brief as he is decisive.” He is sincere and broad-minded. He respects religious outside his own, but “he is too wise to be a dogmatist or a fanatic.”
Adventures In Learning
It’s how you deal with people that defines you. On a more fundamental level, character depends on the quality if the mind. Prof. Vidal A. Tan’s essay Adventures In Learning is a timeless call to the youth to discover the wonderful world of reading.
In the accumulated literary archives of ages, we have a world to explore, "rich in history, abundant in folklore, overflowing with romance and replete with adventure.” However, there are those who go to college only as a compulsory requirement to find a job and get rich – which is not life is all about.
“Richer living means living a life of simplicity and peace, a life that is sensitively aware of those possessions and experiences that exalt the mind and satisfy the soul – a life of simple needs and wants, belonging to a man who goes to bed every night at peace with the world, at peace with his conscience, and at peace with his God.”
The achievement of that goal is the product of three factors: x (place), y (time), and z (unknown factor). The place is the university, the time is now, and the unknown quality is you, the student.
“If your going to college has taught you nothing but the habit of reading good books, I would consider your time well-spent because, with that habit, you have the key to learning. The door to that great world of adventure is open to you. You need but knock to enter.”
Which brings to the question of what is a good book. In her essay Educating The Literary Taste, U.S.T. Professor Paz Latorena (1908-1953) emphasizes that the ability to discern “is to have a feeling and an inclination for what is fine and beautiful in literature, to savor and to appreciate it, and to dislike and reject what is vulgar and tawdry in it.”
There are three principles that will guide you in developing a sense of literary excellence.
First, the intellectual value – “The quality that appeals to the mind and enlarges it.” And that quality is Truth. Beware of books that present half-truths and falsified ideals.
Second, the emotional value, appealing to our higher nature. These are the “emotions which control our conduct as moral beings”, that “move us to right and happy living. And those are the emotions which a good literary taste instinctively looks for.”
And third, the ethical value – this is where morality comes in. If the author presents evil for its own sake, then his purpose is to degrade. But if he also shows the consequences, “That is representing the whole of life, which usually includes reaction, and later, retribution.”
The human condition is the wellspring of creative writing. And “since we are moral being with a conscience, good literary taste demands that in out literature there should be found a positive influence that will bring us higher values, both as individuals and as member of the social order.”
But in a larger sense, what is the greatest lesson we should learn in school? In his essay The Social Value of the College-Bred, American educator and Varieties of Religious Experiences author William James (1842-1910) has simply the last word on the subject.
“The critical sense, the sense for ideal values” should awaken in us “the admiration of the really admirable” and “the disesteem of what is cheap and trashy and impermanent.”
A student’s greatest tragedy is “to have spent one’s youth at college in contact with the choice and rare and precious, and yet still to be a blind prig or vulgarian, unable to scent out human excellence or to divine it amid its accidents, to know it only when ticketed and labeled and forced on us by others.”
College education “ought to have lit up in us a lasting relish for the better kind of man, a loss of appetite for mediocrities, and a disgust for cheap jacks.”
The ultimate responsibility of the school, “the best single phrase in which we can tell what it ought to do for us, is, then, exactly what I said: it should enable us to know a good man when we see him.”
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