A Quote I Show My Students

I invite my students to listen to, and read, David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water,” the commencement speech he delivered to graduating seniors of Kenyon College in 2005. While full of many lines to discuss, I love this one in particular:

“Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts clich√© about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

As my students write their final essay in which they “choose what to pay attention to” and then how to “construct meaning from” whatever they choose to examine closely (the classic humanities essay), I reconsider the truth of what it means to think, to write, and to live a meaningful life. So much of my own thinking, writing, and living has been a journey to hold up my experiences to biblical truth and to see God at work everywhere.

We choose what to pay attention to. And we work to make meaning from what we experience. I cannot wait to read these essays!

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