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I Loaf and Invite My Soul Posted on:Friday, November 9th, 2012


Spoken in the timeless poem, Song of Myself, Walt Whitman goes on to say, ” I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.”

If you have a second, I’d head over to check out the entire poem. In short, it is simply an exhortation for us to slow down, tune into our senses, and contemplate the sources of our ideas.

According to Andrew Delbanco in his book, College What it Was, Is, and Should Be, the ability to introspect shaped the very purpose and vision of some of our earliest colleges.  “A college education was considered to be a hedge against utilitarian values.” It was a place where students were permitted to question and hone their critical thinking, to practice civil discourse, and ultimately to find meaning and purpose in life.

In the economic panic of our times, I momentarily lost touch with the true meaning of a college education.  I found myself telling students to consider majors based on marketability and job placement, which some will argue is still fairly sound advice.

But college is so much more than a place for acquisition of knowledge and accreditation. It is the place where for the first time, we stand completely unanchored, left to sort out our own existence, decide our own friends, and anxiously pursue our own paths.

And so, as I experienced, the mark of an excellent college education is not being able to tout a prestigious name or wave a shiny certificate; Rather, it is more about the degree to which we come out with a less embattled sense of self, and a greater aptitude for tolerating life’s contradictions.

To that end, to answer a question that was once thrown at me in an interview, Yes, I do believe that college is for everyone.  As Delbanco points out in his book, “It is a nightmare society that affords the chance to learn and grow only to the wealthy, brilliant, and lucky few.”

In addition to Whitman’s poem, I also suggest reading a great article by David Skorton, President of Cornell University, which offers great insight into the meaning and purpose of college.



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