Are you seeking a diploma, or are you seeking an education? So many of you tell me you’re here because graduating from here will get you a job and better pay than if you don’t have a degree. But I have to tell you: It’s not the piece of paper that gets you the good job and the better pay. It’s not getting a piece of paper with the minimal amount of work and least cost to you. It’s the education. Because the education makes you who you become, is what you then know, and it is you who earn better pay and a good job.
It’s not a guarantee because the world is unjust, but truly, it is your education that people want, not the piece of paper. Which do you want?
From what I see, I think you want that piece of paper, and I think you want to do it with as little work as possible. Many of you come to class when it is convenient for you or when you feel like it or when your professor makes attendance part of your grade. When you come, often you sit passively waiting for me to upload data into your minds through a lecture. You prefer if that lecture is entertaining and involves pictures and videos and humor. Many of you sit quietly even when I am asking questions for you to answer and engage with the material. It seems you want me to do all of the work for you. Many of you ask me how to make up a single point on a small assignment because you think every point matters (because until college we have told you that grades are the thing that matters, not what you are learning). Before exams your questions become more insistent: “Tell me what will be on the exam so I can get a perfect score.” After papers you want to redo them so you can get more points, not so you can learn how to write better, let alone research or argue better. As for reading, only if I make it part of your grade will you do most of it.
Given what I observe, let me ask you: What is it you think you’re here at college to do? I know you’re busy with many things—good things—social groups and clubs and volunteer work and chapel and work that pays for your books and food. Those things contribute to your formation, sure, but they are not what the university is for. The university is for learning. For you to gain a real education—not just some facts but ways of thinking, not just data or content but skills for engaging with the world, not just knowledge but wisdom. We are talking about your formation in wisdom.
And that, my friends, cannot be done with minimal work. For this, you will have to sweat. But the rewards for this work—oh, my friends—the rewards are more than worth it. You will find yourself living in a richly textured world. Your conversations will have depth and purpose. Your friendships will have new levels of meaning. Your experiences with art and science and media and politics and all the rest will have so many more shades and possibilities for direction. Your ability to work with a problem or a challenge may become graceful, even reaching elegant solutions. Your ability to see truth will grow. And all of this will lead you deeper into the mystery of God, draw you closer to Christ as Christ transforms you more into his own image and into the person he has created you to be. Which is finally what wisdom is all about.
So. Do you want an education? Do you want wisdom that makes you over into the image of Christ? Refocus your goal and watch the rest, including your grades, follow. Don’t be afraid to speak in class and try out ideas. Even better, be bold and brave and ask questions. Be curious! Go to your professor’s office hours to ask questions that you want to know more about. Have questions you want to know more about. Ask your professor for help with assignments before they’re due, not so you get perfect points but so you develop your thinking and learn. Do your reading well. This might mean you need to make different choices and commitments, a restructuring. Do you need to be in eighteen different extracurriculars? What if you picked one or two things that were important to you? Would you then have time to do your homework and do it well? What if you started reading on paper with all of your devices in another room? Would you be able to focus and read with more engagement (and, as a bonus, more quickly)? If you simplify your focus, might you even discover that you have more time to engage with friends at deeper levels?
God has given you this time to be a student. Will you receive that as gift, or will you turn it into a transaction? The choice is yours. May I suggest gift?