Good morning and welcome to Transylvania. We’re delighted to kick off a new school year by honoring you, the class of 2022, and your family members who have joined you here today. All of us at Transylvania are honored that you have chosen to spend four pivotal years on our campus, and we take our commitment to you and to your education very seriously.
I have recently navigated the process of selecting a college with both of my daughters, and I am now in the middle of that process with my son. I know how trying it can be. So let me first offer my congratulations on your having reached this milestone. As students, I expect you feel some relief and not a small amount of anxiety. Those jumbled feelings are perfectly normal. Talk with your roommate, your floor mates, your classmates. I expect you’ll find they all share your excitement and your concerns. It’s a while ago now, but I remember experiencing a similar sense of trepidation when I first arrived on campus. As the son of immigrants and the first in my family to go away to school, I was lost. In fact, I was so homesick, I decided to withdraw after a couple of weeks and drove home on a Friday afternoon. The next morning my father told me to have a job by Monday morning. So I called a friend who had a construction company to ask for a job. He told me to get back to school. Monday morning I arrived in the dean’s office and the woman I handed my withdrawal note to smiled, handed it back to me and said, ‘this happens all the time.’
As a parent, I also know how exciting, yet how difficult, it can be to leave your child in an unfamiliar place in the care of unfamiliar people. We understand the gravity of the role we play in your child’s safety and ultimately your child’s success. We care deeply for each and every one of the students on this campus and we do our best to make sure that nobody falls through the cracks.
I expect your first day on campus was a busy one, but I hope your experience so far has only confirmed that you made the right decision and that you are feeling optimistic and eager to get the school year underway. There will be challenges ahead. Our professors and your peers will push you in ways you have not been pushed before. You may question things you took for granted and truths that seemed obvious. You may stumble onto a new path forward.
Many of you may already have a clear idea of your career path. Others are not sure. Either way, college should be a time to explore, discover new interests, study topics that excite you, pursue courses that you love. These pursuits will lead you to your best self as a student and as a person. In studying what you are passionate about, you will develop the skills, confidence, and composure that lead to success regardless of what career path you choose. We expect you to do great work. Great work follows from dedication and dedication occurs naturally when you are studying what excites you.
One of our goals is to help you find meaningful employment. But our mission is to help you make a meaningful life. And to do that, we will encourage you to reflect on questions of value and purpose. You’ll have the opportunity to study biology, history, accounting, music, philosophy, and computer science. But it’s what you learn about yourself in the process that is ultimately the most interesting. And the most fruitful.
Granted, what I’m describing is not easy. As you’ve no doubt heard all your life, you’ll get out of your Transylvania experience exactly what you put in. The more you apply yourself to your studies and your extra-curricular activities, the more you’ll take away.
But in the middle of all that furious effort, amid all of your tangible achievements, I hope you find time to step away from the busyness and noise of our interconnected world and sit quietly with your own thoughts. I hope you occasionally stop and think how the things you have read in the world’s greatest texts and the things you have experienced in the laboratory affect your interpretation of the world and how you want to live in it.
American author Jim Mustich wrote, “We are born with five senses, and with them our task in life is to develop a sixth: sense of self, fashioned from reason, memory, and feeling, and from the content and context of our learning. That’s really what an education is: a shaping of the sense of self we carry with us as we discover, and develop, and finally, tell, the story of our lives.”
The early chapters of your life story are written. You might thank your parents and family before they leave today for their help with that. But continuing to write the new chapters requires courage. It is easy to be who others want us to be. It is hard to be the author of one’s own self. It is harder still when you realize that all the delights and disappointments of your next chapters will be determined by you and how you engage with the people and the opportunities that surround you.
And you will fail—at least I hope you will. I also hope I’m not the first one to tell you that. You will fail—in some way, large or small. And that’s OK. Really, it’s more than OK. Because when you fail, you will know that you stretched yourself, that you took a risk and tried something that perhaps gave you pause or made you fearful. But if you’re really trying and paying attention, you will learn from failure. That is the heart of education. Education is not a mere transmittal of knowledge from one mind to another. It is a process of growth, change, and development.
Thomas Merton wrote in his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain: “The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy: the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real!”
I hope that, here at Transylvania, you learn to rely on your own imagination, that you learn to consider the comments and opinions of others without letting them determine your value. Look to your bountiful imagination to color your own inner landscape. Imagine a future full of curiosity and fearlessness and joy. Don’t meekly follow the well-trodden path, but boldly forge your own.
As your confidence builds, you will begin to see clearly the person you want to be, the goals you want to pursue, and the moral convictions you will need to achieve them. Then you will be prepared to face all the grief and wonder, happiness and heartbreak, awe and mystery that will come your way, with grace, and strength, and poise, and love.
In short, this is your time to learn new things, to put into practice the knowledge you acquire, to dream with other like-minded individuals, to recognize not only what the world is but what it might become. Today Transylvania becomes your community of scholars and learners. Together we will read and comment on, study and write about the great books of world civilization. Together we will confront contemporary scientific theories and philosophies and the technology that shapes our daily lives and frames our future. Together we will go into the world and practice what we have learned—helping those in need, managing the affairs of commerce and finance, pioneering new breakthroughs, challenging conventional wisdom. Mark Twain wrote, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Today you begin the long journey toward finding out why.
And how fortunate you are to undertake that journey amid a supportive community of fellow travelers. Together we will peek behind the curtain of the world as we found it and see new possibilities. We will discover what is good and what can be made better. Together we will try the patience of the self-satisfied. Together, through reflection, we will learn from each other.
So, finally, I welcome you to your university; I welcome you to your community of scholars and learners; I welcome you to your home away from home. And I urge you to imagine a new future for yourself and for us all.
Thank you for bringing your experiences, your insights, and your hope to Transylvania.