Higher education receives a lot of flack these days, and often rightly so. Controversies abound -- from admissions scandals and skyrocketing tuition costs, to violent protests and the shouting down of certain ideas.
It’s upon this backdrop that I graduated with my Masters from the University of Miami last week. Despite these unsettling trends, President Julio Frenk’s commencement speech reminded me why good education is so valuable, and why I’m proud to be a Cane.
President Frenk reminded us of the values that make University of Miami special -- respectful disagreement, the pursuit of truth, and an embrace of difference.
At the University of Miami, we don’t dismiss perspectives simply because they are different from our own. Instead, we listen, discuss, debate, research, and engage. We practice civic and civil interaction, and we lean into disagreements with curiosity and respect. By questioning and investigating all ideas, we search for truth and then pursue that truth in our daily lives.
President Frenk called a University of Miami education “the foundation for a meaningful and rewarding life” and he’s right. Embracing these principles make for mature, dutiful, and contributing citizens.
In fact, it’s these tenets of a meaningful education that are the very foundation for an educated citizenry. While a liberal education does not offer all the answers, it does teach its students to ask good questions in the pursuit of truth. It gives practice at holding competing ideas and wrestling with complex situations. It’s by questioning, exploring, and confronting the unpopular that we learn and grow. As the world becomes more complex and polarized, these skills of respectful disagreement, the pursuit of truth, and an embrace of difference become more valuable.
Without these values, “we the people” succumb to tribalism, intolerance, and mob rule. It is a good education that opens doors, eyes, and hearts to humanity. It is also a liberal education that opens minds to ideas outside of one’s own upbringing or experiences.
Imagine the peace, harmony, and progress that would come from citizenship devoted to coexisting and thriving. This is not achieved by shouting down others or condemning the exploration of ideas. Instead, challenging poorly reasoned theories and wrestling with convoluted and contradictory positions allows us to pursue truth, understand others, and in many cases, embrace the difference.
Perhaps Harvard President Emeritus Drew Gilpin Faust, our commencement ceremony speaker, explained it best when she said, “Education is democracy’s life insurance.”