Notes from my knapsack 5-22-14
The graduation season
We just had commencement addresses this past week at Denison here in the village, and up the road at Kenyon; the news out of Columbus let us know what was said at Ohio State's spring graduation ceremonies in the Horseshoe.
Next, high school grads here in Brigadoon and in communities and school districts all around will be marching across stages after having heard some salutary words from esteemed fellow students and school board members and the occasional local dignitary.
That's a large amount of advice to wedge into one season, floating out above the heads of the gathered graduates and families, drifting in snatches and soundbites into the media ether, and as a regular columnist who is often asked to share opinions and perspectives, this time of year leaves a scrivener like myself two options: I can avoid the topic altogether, or chime in as if someone's asked me to pile on.
Yep, pile on it is!
Graduates of all sorts, I do believe I have some useful advice to share. It's not meant to contradict any graduation counsel you're hearing from other better qualified speakers, and I trust will complement their guidance. They will tell you, variously, to follow your dreams, do what you love, give your best, and marvel at "Oh, the places you'll go," and that's all worth taking into consideration.
I'd just like to add: pick your extra-curriculars as carefully as you do your classes.
This isn't about your social life, per se; I'm not talking about deciding which party to attend on weekends (or, perish forbid, weeknights). I'm asking you to think about your chess clubs, your intramural teams, your bands and bell choirs and campus ministries, your honoraries and yes, in part, your Greek organizations too.
Obviously, this is more aimed at high school grads heading to college than post-secondary commencements, but not entirely. If you spent college spending your non-classroom time just on a random cycle of parties and shopping and TV viewing, it's not too late to adopt a menu of extra-curricular activities, although in whatever community you're moving to after the diploma, it's called "life" now.
Taking a language is important, and becoming math literate as well as being exposed to the Western Canon along with the Voices of the Oppressed is all part of a solid core, whether you're a humanities major or a science and engineering scholar. You need to get bang for your educational buck, and there are lists for your major along with academic counselors to speak to about all this. Academics are Job One in college, no doubt.
But your extracurricular involvements are where you are likely to meet people you'll stay in touch with your whole life, not the row of people you sit next to in Accounting 200; the skills and activities in those clubs and scheduled events you freely choose to get into are ones you are much more likely to be using in your forties and fifties than tensor analysis or the anatomy of melancholy.
That doesn't mean all of formal education has to seem relevant, and always serve you in a practical manner. It's a network of knowledge all its own, right down to quadratic equations and the social structures of revolutionary movements. But to play a musical instrument, to speak in public with comfort and even style, to walk in the woods and know something about the plants you pass by . . . you'll keep doing that.
And those student societies whose busy work can, with a small amount of ironic detachment, seem so meaningless and frivolous itself . . . you learn there more than in classroom projects the give and take and internal negotiations that you'll use in understanding everything from the PTO to your homeowner's association someday.
Choose your extra-curriculars with care and attention. You are almost certainly starting involvements that will stay with you all the days of your life.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's still glad he decided to get involved in a campus ministry at college 33 years ago. Ask him why at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.