Contributed by Dr. Tracy Caldwell, Program Director and Faculty Advisor, Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program
First I want to congratulate you on this wonderful accomplishment. I am honored to be able to speak to you briefly today on the benefits of the liberal arts education you have achieved and that is being celebrated by you today. It is an excellent time to reflect on your educational experiences, what you have learned and how you have grown over this journey.
A liberal arts education gives you a broader vision and perspective and increases your ability to think both creatively and critically. It allows you to ponder your place in the world and the place of those around you. You study both commonalities and differences between people, societies and cultures. You make deeper connections with the world and people around you because this kind of knowledge feeds on itself you find yourself wanting to know more and do more, applying what you have gathered on your educational travels. You have explored important issues, events and discourse from various disciplinary perspectives. You have explored degree outcomes in critical thinking, communication, diversity and ethics. Your education has prepared you to form a solid moral compass—the article “A Liberal Education” From the University of California at Berkley notes: “No matter how advanced our society, we never lose the need to reflect on life, to distinguish good from evil, justice from injustice, and what is noble and beautiful from what is useful.”
I have benefitted immensely from my extensive liberal arts education and by work as a professor in several liberal arts colleges and universities. This training has shown itself in a variety of unique ways, often where I least expected it. Photography is one example. I always enjoyed “taking pictures” and did it a lot in college—simple pictures that documented parties or graduations, things meant for myself and a few close friends. They were simple candids without texture, thought, balance or beauty. They were utilitarian in nature. By my later 20s I had been exposed to a variety of approaches to looking at all things I considered important including art, literature, politics, history, I began to see things differently. The very way I looked through a lens was different in my academic, personal and photographic experiences. My pictures showed a different more complex reality. I saw beauty in the smallest thing—raindrop on a leaf, the swirls and loops of the wood grain in a fence—the half smile of a friend, a landscape. I learned composition balance and the ability to convey meaning in photography not from studying books on how to use my camera but rather from trial and error, from having a deeper perspective on life and on the people in it. I developed a fresh sense of wanting to communicate my own views to others, to express my knowledge and perspective, to teach and to learn. As in my own education I learned the importance of storytelling; I use photographs as a means to tell a story.
Your own study exposed you to many disciplines and perspectives of the world and multiplied your vision. The landscape of the rest of your life is open and inviting, you will see more clearly and with greater depth
A strong liberal arts education teaches you how to think, how to learn and how to do. Each subject is its own unique contribution to your vision and to a shared vision. In your study of history, culture, sociology, philosophy, literature, ethics and the like there is a real sense of cross fertilization of ideas. This type of education enables you to become valuable workers, leaders and community members
Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan University notes
“it is no surprise that [liberal arts] graduates can be found disproportionately in leadership positions in politics, culture and the economy.”
Roth goes on to note, “Post secondary education should help students to discover what they love to do, to get better at it, and to develop the ability to continue learning so that they become agents of change -- not victims of it.
In a culture that often looks down upon a liberal arts education in favor of the more professionally focused degree, many important figures have reminded us of the benefits of a liberal arts education. In Steve Jobs’s famous recent speech he notes “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing”—Vivek Wadhwa professor at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University notes
“Steve Jobs taught the world that good engineering is important but that what matters the most is good design. You can teach artists how to use software and graphics tools, but it’s much harder to turn engineers into artists.”
A liberal arts education Influences you to be actively engaged with learning rather than be a passive receptacle for facts. A famous quote states “a mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be lit”—your liberal arts education has indeed lit that fire and it’s is my hope and wish for you that you continue to feed those flames and move further in your education in the liberal arts as you move forward through your journey as lifelong learners.