Strong minds and character

Published 10:12 am Friday, June 13, 2014

For the high school seniors of Western Tidewater, it will be tempting to look at graduation ceremonies this weekend as the end of a road. Indeed, as they receive their diplomas, seniors from the three public high schools — Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight — will join Southampton Academy and Isle of Wight Academy graduates from last weekend in moving beyond high school.

After 13 years or so of primary and secondary education, the goal of high school graduation will have been reached. Many of our students will be turning their sights on the next educational achievement, graduation from a college, and some of those have even higher educational goals to which they aspire.

But all of the graduating seniors, whether they plan to go to college or not, should understand something very important: The learning should never end. As comedienne Carol Burnette is said to have put it, “We don’t stop going to school when we graduate.”

Much of the point of secondary education is to teach facts and figures, the common knowledge that we all need to operate in society — language skills and basic math, for instance, along with an understanding of the common history and sociological connections that provide the context of the world in which we live.

But an even more vital lesson should also have been learned: Learning is important for its own sake. The human mind has a ravenous appetite for stimulation, and feeding it new ideas and new concepts helps keep it strong and vital. On the other hand, starving it with the same old junk causes it to wither and fade.

A great way to feed the brain is by reading. A shocking percentage of those who receive their diplomas today will never read another book, and the lifetime of television and social media that lies ahead will slowly and surely strangle their minds and empty their souls.

Not all good lessons come from books, though. Humans are intended to be active and engaged. We are meant to truly experience life. People who look at life with an expectation that there are lessons to be learned in every experience tend also to look for those experiences, rather than just wait for life to happen around them.

Whether or not today’s graduates have taken their last organized class, one of the best things we can wish for them is that they continue to pursue knowledge and wisdom. The world will surely teach them some lessons, but pursuing them with intentionality will build strength of mind and character.