As we sat on the couch sounding out a new word from her reading textbook, my foster daughter looked up at me and crinkled her nose. My brain hurts, she moaned.
Ah, the joys of a new school year.
As an adult, I have conveniently forgotten all those times when as a child I struggled and wriggled before understanding gave way to exuberance. This year’s new student convocation at RecPlex also reminded me of how certain I was of my major when I started at UD so many years ago, only to have my sail buffeted by every new professor. Become instead a geologist hammering fossils in an ancient sea bed? Why not. A sociologist researching the human connection to place? I’m there.
And I’m not alone. Maggie Schaller, a senior political science and human rights major, told the incoming class during her convocation address that she changed her major four times, dropped classes and quit clubs all on her way to excelling at the most important homework assignment: experiencing as much as she could.
“Above all, don’t be scared to learn,” she told the sea of students in their pastel shirts and Sunday dresses. “This includes in your classes, outside of them and, most importantly, about yourself.”
At convocation, speakers inspire students to dream and act and not freak out over the enormous changes and choices before them. Father James Fitz, S.M. ’68, offered words from the Book of Sirach. Its writer, he said, reminds us that if you wish, you can become. If you are willing to listen, you will learn. If you see a person of prudence, seek that person out. “Let your feet wear away that person’s doorstep,” he read.
It’s advice appropriate at a University where friendship and welcome invite us all to learn as a community, to embrace the messiness and the challenges not alone but in concert with those who will support and learn with us.
Philosopher John Dewey believed that the best sort of society is one that uses its collective intelligence. V. Denise James, associate professor of philosophy, cited Dewey in her convocation address that also asked students to answer one of her favorite questions: “Why am I here?”
“I know that real education has a way of chipping away at rigidity and certainty,” she said after revealing her own unexpected trajectory toward professor. “Education makes your world larger, multiplies your experiences, deepens your connection to others and lets you see new opportunities that you didn’t even know existed.”
And why are we here? Today’s answer should be different from tomorrow’s, as we ponder and grow. As James told the incoming class, “That’s my favorite compliment, when a student leaves class and says, ‘You made my head hurt.’”
The process may hurt a little, but we should refuse to be scared to learn. That’s wisdom for us all for the new school year and beyond.