Dear Graduating Students of 2020
Updated: Jun 8, 2022
This is a letter I wrote to my students of 2020.
April 29th, 2020
You are nearing the end of your High School education under strange and complicated conditions. It is a sci-fi scenario: illness, self-quarantine, and paranoia. Governmental control. Misinformation. And fear. Cultures and economies shutdown, empty cities, and confusion, finger-pointing, and violence. Threats multiply as the news propagate information that scares the wits out of us. Experts warn of the possibility of doomsday, and argue for systemic transformation, lest the doomsday clock reaches twelve. Politicians wrestle each other for the spotlight, while civilians pick up the pieces—utter chaos. History will view this pandemic as the fundamental breaking point of civilization. Not because our societies ended, but because of the change in our understanding of normality.
Normality is a word we apply to everything. We think that normal things keep us safe and grounded. It is the go-to qualifier when we want ourselves and others to feel secure. People have a desire for normalcy, as it keeps their feet from leaving the ground. But arguably, we also have a hidden passion for the strange.
I have taught you philosophy for a year now. I have aimed to challenge your views of reality. To open the floodgates of your rationality, by pushing you into the unknown.
Think of a suspension bridge, a narrow one the width of one person, bridging a chasm. Below, in the gap, is the chaotic rush of the human experience of the non-human, ever-changing world. Rationality is a means to get over the chasm, to stay above it.
We live in the rush of life so only our rational perspective can walk on the bridge. And it would be foolish to think that walking on the bridge is the best kind of life to lead. A strictly rational approach to life has great value. Because when reasoning, we can evaluate precisely where we are and what we are doing: clarity. What we see clearly may be limited but at least we can have confidence in what we see. There is much more to see, obviously, but at least we do not see illusions of our making.
The world you inherited is complicated. The fish tank analogy reminds us that Covid-19 is a symptom of more insidious, structural problems. Some of these, as we saw in our readings, are cultures that privilege appearances and instant gratification over substance and hard work. Economies that place the premium on mass consumption despite its devastation of nature. Educational paradigms that underscore ideology above brainpower. Political systems that allow unethical leaders and corrupt people to manage state policy. Media obsessed with "us vs. them" narratives, a phenomenon that exacerbates stereotypes in the cacophony of repetition. Warring factions in, and outside, the academy between paradigms of meaning and control. Obsession with tradition and orthodoxy that attacks attempts at careful dialog between differences, which also foregoes the abuses of power that can stem from tradition and orthodoxy if left unchallenged.
But there is hope. In record time, I have seen eudaemonia at work. If you recall, Aristotle thought that the role of education is to activate the kind of values and virtues that enable people to flourish. In other words, the Attic thinker argued that human beings better themselves, actualize their potential, via different kinds of work.
If the mind is tuned correctly, the rest follows: inside is outside. If I see things within, so I can see them in others. I can be a whole person, a master of my life, if I finely and carefully and lovingly, mold the core of my very being.
My point is that you have flourished.
You have learned how to be better, and have actualized some of the potentials, that, under the right conditions, will birth wisdom.
I am proud to have witnessed your progress.
And now that things come to an end, I say farewell to you.
Live uncanny lives, but most of all, live ethically so that the world can continue to be, for those who have not yet arrived.
Fernando J. Villalovs