I am passionate about teaching. I adore learning. I love the academy and all the ideals that reside within the four walls of the ivy tower. I have given more than 30 years of my professional life to this enterprise.
Why? It’s because I am a believer. I believe in education.
I believe that the best education is that which is tested by time, confirmed by experience, validated by reason and, ultimately, grounded in Revelation.
I believe that the academy is the gate-keeper of our individual virtue and our national conscience. I believe that all intellectual and moral training must be anchored in our Creator who endows us with the rights of life and liberty. And I believe that if we build education on any foundation but Him we will lose our conscience and shortly thereafter lose our freedom, our joy and our ability to pursue happiness.
I believe that our future lies in the hearts and minds of today’s students, and that all cultures are but one generation away from irrelevancy and extinction.
I believe that what is taught today in the classroom will be practiced tomorrow in our churches, our companies, our communities and our country at large.
I believe in absolutes, and I believe that if we don’t teach them, learn them and cherish them that we will be cast about by every wave of human desire, political promise and selfish ambition.
I believe in historical mission of the university; a mission set deep in the bedrock of what is immutable, unshakable, permanent and true; not in the bricks and mortar of grand campuses and sports colosseums, but rather in such cornerstones as honor, integrity, virtue, temperance or perhaps patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
I believe there must be more to education than just passing along a few facts and figures and opinions to our young people. Maybe, just maybe, the best education rises above the theories of Dewey and Darwin and Derrida to a way and a truth and a life that is found only in the dogma only found the classics and the Divine.
I am a believer.
Education has changed my life and it has changed my family. With it, God has not only given me a career but he has opened my mind, changed my behavior, challenged my character, confronted my sin and saved my soul. He has broken the pattern of the generations that preceded me, taken me off of the prodigal path, and shown me the joy of choosing the road less traveled. Whether I be poor and unemployed or rich — with a predictable paycheck, education is a treasure to me. It has proven to be the gold given by God that serves as his currency for purchasing the incorruptible riches of his truth.
Today, as you graduate, I leave you with one word: Believe.
Believe in the liberal arts, an education that is driven by the hunger for answers rather than the protection of opinions; an education that is not subject to the ebb and flow of personal agendas or political fads; an education that is not afraid to put all ideas on the table because there is confidence that in the end we will embrace what is true and discard what is false.
Believe in liberty — because the best education is one that indeed liberates. It liberates us from the consequences of those things that are wrong and frees us to live within the beauty of those things that are right.
Believe in integration — and that truth cannot be segregated into false dichotomies, but it is an integrated whole where you cannot and should not separate personal life from private life, the head from the heart, fact from faith, or belief from behavior.
Believe that truth gives salvation to the damned and freedom to the slave. Be energized by the unapologetic pursuit of truth. Wherever it leads, be confident in the words, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
Education — complete education — liberal education — must be grounded in the conservative respect for and the conservation of what is right and just and real. It should seek to reclaim what has been co-opted and to reveal what has been compromised. It should be free of intimidation and should honor open inquiry. It should have confidence in the measuring rod of Truth, that unalienable standard that is bigger and better than the crowd or the consensus.
Education, good liberal education, is the business of pursuing Truth. It isn’t about just getting a job or furthering your career. It isn’t about constructing opinions. It’s about choosing to obey God rather than trying to become God.
Today, as you watch the consequences of bad ideas play themselves out on the nightly news, remember that your education should, at minimum, have given you the ability to discern between good ideas and bad ideas; between that which is right and that which is wrong. Remember that as Chesterton told you: “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
Congratulations on your commencement day.
My charge to you as you graduate today is this — Believe.
Now leave this campus. Culture is now yours. Go change the world.
• Everett Piper, a former university president, is a columnist for The Washington Times and author of “Not A Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery 2017).
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