Don’t Be Afraid to Write New Stories!

A message to graduating seniors from Robert G. Anderson, Associate Professor of Political Science

Each year, my Global Experience freshmen read the novel Ishmael.  Besides engaging many critical issues facing all life on our planet, a major theme of the book is to encourage the reader not to be afraid to write new chapters in his or her personal history -- or – if necessary – completely rewrite one’s story at any stage in life! 

Personally, I have found this to be a simple piece of wisdom that constantly has enriched my journey through life.  As you probably already know, it is very easy to become complacent with “the things” one has – or overly satisfied with one’s place and role in society. The trick to avoiding complacency (maybe), is defining “broadly and liberally” (using the term “liberal” in the context of your “Elon liberal arts education”) what ‘success” in life will mean for you – both as an individual and member of many larger communities.

Elon has offered you many tools to help you construct and define a meaningful and successful life.  Besides depth of study in your major, hopefully your experience at Elon has shown you the value of the following for a successful life:

  1. Never be satisfied completely with who or where you are – be open to new roads to travel.
  2. Sustain your passions – but balance them with compassion.
  3. Respect yourself and others – let tolerance, restraint and humility be a measure of your character and interactions.
  4. Exhibit responsibility and expect it from others.
  5. Celebrate diversity and inclusion  -- in your thoughts, opinions, companions and actions.
  6. Protect your honesty – it is your most precious possession.
  7. Let service for others become a part of service of self – let your head, hand and heart be connected in your actions.
  8. Promote environmental diversity and sustainability – all life is interdependent.
  9. Encourage equity in the distribution of essential resources – it would change the quality of the global human landscape.
  10. Occasionally, rethink what it means to be “human” in the “world human community” – assessing whom we call “neighbor” and how much of human life is spent satisfying personal greed versus addressing universal human needs.
  11. Accept and offer positive and thoughtful criticism – be willing to “be divergent” in your thinking and opinions and careful not to blame the messenger for delivering uncomfortable messages.  
  12. Most importantly – recognize that “learning never ends”  -- and that it takes willingness on our part to be receptive and open to new ideas.

The real joy of life is “in the journey” – a journey that offers many roads to multiple destinations in life.  But this will happen for you only if you are willing to “continue the ride.”  Your education at Elon – hopefully – has given you some of the knowledge, skill sets and vision that will allow you to navigate your way to many meaningful destinations.  

The challenge for you is to find a way – in our overly homogenized and consumerized society – to integrate career with larger life goals -- to commit to communities beyond self, to remain motivated to learn new things, to take the occasional risk, to look for new visions, to be receptive to new opportunities – and “live life” in a manner that shows that “your story is intertwined with the stories of others and is never completely written.”