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Our education of heart and mind

| Friday, April 23, 2021

I’m dreading graduation next month for so many reasons. Of course, I don’t want to leave this place, this community, and the great friends I have made here. To a lesser, though still significant extent, I’m also worried about continuing my education after my schooling is complete. Not in graduate school or law school — I mean in an informal way. Am I going to be able to find the time to keep reading, writing and learning about the world around me?

Maybe part of the motivation for wanting to do so in the first place comes from the fact that I’m a philosophy major, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of learning about philosophy. That’s not an indictment of the program here, of course; I’ve loved and benefited from every philosophy class I’ve taken. But in addition to teaching me a whole lot, they’ve taught me how much I don’t know. There are centuries of writing out there by millions of people, all of which sheds light on the human experience and can teach us something about how to live our lives. I’m not only talking about philosophy, either. What impact did the French Revolution have on the common people of Europe? How did Einstein’s theories of relativity challenge traditional assumptions about space and time? How has western intervention changed political life in the Middle East? These are important questions: We can only genuinely work together for our common good if we have some understanding of the world around us, and of the people who have preceded us.

Asking important questions should not end just because we are moving from the “school” portion of our lives to the “employment” portion of our lives. If anyone at this University feels like they’re a perfectly educated person who knows all they need to know, then Notre Dame has failed to teach them an important lesson about humility. We can’t ever know as much as we should. None of us are perfect —there are always ways to better ourselves, and learning is one of the most important tools for doing so. Our society has pretty arbitrarily decided that us seniors are at the age when we are ready to dedicate most of our time to work. I don’t think any one of us would say that we have to dedicate all of our time to it. We should use the time we have to love others, to grow as human persons and to learn about the world we’ve been given.

I am not quite sure what learning post-school will look like. I hope to read a whole lot; I want to get involved in whatever community I end up living in, and learn from and with the people around me. There are two things which worry me about this plan. First, I simply don’t know if I will be able to find the time and motivation to learn on top of the obligations of everyday life. Reading more has been a New Year’s resolution of mine every year for an embarrassingly large number of years, so I am not sure how realistic it is to expect extra work from myself. Second, I know that the quality of my education will diminish greatly after graduation. How could it not? When I read a book for class, I have the opportunity to discuss it with 15 to 20 of my peers and a renowned scholar who has likely been studying the text for decades. I’m simply not going to get that experience while learning on my own.

The first of these problems, like everything in life, comes down to two things: willpower and divine help. If you’re not a believer in the second, then just concentrate on the first. God wants me to continue learning — I’m reasonably sure of that — so it really comes down to me deciding to carry out my plan. The second problem is unavoidable. I am incredibly thankful for the education I have received here, and I recognize that it is an immense privilege that almost everyone in the world never gets to experience. I have studied at the University of Notre Dame for four years. I will study elsewhere afterwards, but nothing will be like this. That’s just a fact of life.

If you are a senior who is not in the College of Arts and Letters who has read this column so far, I commend you, because you very well might feel like this doesn’t apply to you. In the College of Science and the College of Engineering, or in Mendoza, it’s most likely that your education will continue post-graduation to precisely the extent your job requires. Why learn more about technical matters if you don’t need to? Two friendly reminders: First, learning is in itself a good thing, no matter what you are learning about. Training your mind to process information and communicate clearly is always helpful. Second, and more importantly, there is a reason Notre Dame, and most, if not all, other universities, have liberal arts requirements for all graduates. It is important, regardless of your career, to experience great works of literature, to consider life’s most fundamental questions, to learn about the world we live in and how we have gotten to where we are. Don’t give up on those endeavors just because you’ve fulfilled your two philosophy and two theology classes.

There are many parts of Notre Dame we won’t be able to hold onto after graduation. We’ll be locked out of the residence halls we’ve called home, we’ll have to pay absurd prices for worse seats at one or two football games, and we’ll have to make Spotify playlists to try to represent the dulcet tones of the Duncan Student Center. But the central part of our experience here, our education of heart and mind, need not end when we sing the alma mater together next month. Let’s carry that forward.

Vince Mallett is a senior majoring in philosophy, with a minor in constitutional studies. He currently lives off-campus, though he calls both New Jersey and Carroll Hall home. He can be reached at [email protected] or @vince_mallett on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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