If the liberal arts teach us anything over time, they teach us that those who love the liberal arts fully will suffer.
Odds are you have spent a lot of time lately wishing you had the map in front of you. Until this point, there were signs ahead of each turn, clear indicators of what would be next. And now, it all appears a vast field, or perhaps larger. Perhaps you feel as though galaxies are before you and the immense possibilities could leave you floating directionless into infinity. The next step will not be your last, nor is it your first. You have been called to be who you are in this moment, and that call will not cease.
Who you have been is a strong indicator of where you should go. The talents that have been formed in you will serve the world’s needs that call loudest to you. Just don’t make the mistake of silencing that call, or of overriding it to go the direction where you are not needed but merely feel important, successful. Such words should be stricken from your guidebook in life. They are made-up words really, with no roots that date very far back and no concrete particulars to see, smell or touch about them. Ignore the worn-out vocabulary of the masses—the phantom road signs that read “This way to success.” Block the siren’s call of Disney to “Follow your dreams” or the advertising lure, “Be the best you now.” Read poetry to train your ears to hear true singing, to tell the difference between cacophony and music. The best way forward is towards the beautiful, and if you love every step of the path, you will be led towards it. You will know it is the right way because you will feel joy in the steps, not merely pleasure—which is fleeting—or happiness, which is happenstance—but joy of the kind that draws you up out of yourself towards something higher, broader, and lasting. To follow this joy may hurt tremendously, but aren’t all the best things brought through trial? Aren’t we all refined by fire?
Remember you are a pilgrim on this road. You are not meant to be a final product, so focus on your verbs more than your nouns: you write, you make, you teach, you serve. This will help you avoid chasing the title and the conversation-piece job, staying true to what you enjoy doing and what you excel at being. Know that once you climb one mountain, there is a higher one above you. Never cease to keep looking out and up, beyond yourself to all the people and places to whom you belong. For belonging is the most beautiful part of the journey, and they lie who tell you that you are your own. If I could rewrite Oh the Places You’ll Go, I’d draw that little tyke with a handful of loved ones around him on his way. Chaucer and Dante told truer tales of pilgrimage. I’d also forego many of Theodor Geisel’s words in favor of those T.S. Eliot wrote: “We shall not cease from exploration/ and the end of all our exploring/ will be to arrive where we started/ and know the place for the first time.”
Explore, 2020 graduates. And carry traveling mercies with you, wherever you go.