On our first day as freshmen, someone should have taken us out on the school’s front patio, pointed up to our school motto, “To teach the art of living well,” and explained it. It could have gone something like this—
Look, in the next four years, you will often have questions like, ‘Why do I need to know how to calculate the volume of a sphere?’ ‘Why do I need to know the organs in a worm?’ ‘Why do I need to learn grammar?’
When you ask these questions, you are missing the point. It’s not about the details. It’s about learning the art of living well. Somehow, all the details add up to this.
It doesn’t matter what the details are. Some of you will take Spanish, some French. Some will take distributive education, some trigonometry. The subject doesn’t matter. They are all building blocks in the process of learning to live well.
Their sum is not only greater than the parts, their sum is also different than the parts.
We don’t know how this happens, but it does. If we knew, we would put it all into one course and call it ‘Living Well 101.’ But we don’t, and that’s why it’s an art and not a science.
If you quit school now, you will never learn it. You can’t pick it up later. This is the only way, and it has to be now. There are no shortcuts, no postponements.
This is not a guarantee of actually having a great life. Far from it. We just teach it, you learn it, and the rest is up to you. If things don’t work out, at least you’ll know why, and maybe you can fix it. Otherwise, you don’t have a prayer.
We never got this explanation, but that’s where we learned the art of living well. We only know this from hindsight. We took different courses and went our separate ways, but this is what we all learned in Lansdowne—together—between the years 1950 and 1954.