The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

"What should we do if we're done with this quiz?"

"What should we do if we're done with this quiz?"

"Turn your paper over, close your eyes, and meditate on the value of a liberal arts education."

Although it's taken me many years, I have begun to understand what Mr. Morrow meant by a liberal arts education. In that freshman year Latin class with Mr. Morrow, I learned about many things: different types of apples and their taste profiles, the various specimens of trees lining the Circle, and nearly everything except Latin. Yet I gained much more than merely a rigorous academic curriculum. I just didn't see it then.

When I arrived at Lawrenceville, I thought every high school education was the same. After all, don't we all learn the same things in chemistry, play the same sports, and perform in the same Christmas concerts? But after four years at Lawrenceville and especially after talking with my classmates in college, I realized that we have access to invaluable opportunities that no one else has. Our access to these resources is the hallmark of a liberal arts education. That is what sets Lawrenceville apart from the thousands of other high schools in the United States and around the world.

Lawrentians excel at many things. Girls' field hockey, House spirit, and starting new student publications certainly rank high on the list. But I would argue that above all else, Lawrentians excel at being busy. From classes to sports to clubs, we are always doing something. We fill every waking hour with workouts and service projects, juggle multiple overlapping Google calendars, and sprint to our houses just to make it in time for check-in each night. Life on Zoom only promises to amplify this tendency. Yet many of us overwork and overextend ourselves for the wrong reasons. We sign up for clubs and classes not to discover something new, but to add an extra line to our college applications. In doing so, however, we fail to take full advantage of the liberal arts education that Lawrenceville offers us.

In fact, we often do things just to be busy. I know; I certainly lamented my fair share of sleepless nights and endless to-do lists. Whether it's to pad our résumés (or, more likely, college applications), free time can feel like a waste. But in this time of pass/fail grading, where we no longer need to budget time for scrambling from Irwin to Noyes, this is the perfect time to reflect on the Lawrenceville experience. Slow down. Stop. Before you dismiss this as a load of malarkey and return to your search for the next Netflix show to binge, use this extraordinary time of self-isolation to ask one question. What has Lawrenceville taught me about myself?

Sure, founding a new community service club might make you feel accomplished and keep your parents off your back. Certainly, writing a three-part thesis might get you an A in third-Form English. Of course, just showing up and blindly participating is ninety percent of Lawrenceville. We can apply these formulas blindly and frequently in our lives, checking all the boxes and hitting all the tangible measures of academic, extracurricular, and personal achievement. But it doesn't mean we should. After all, what does it matter if you achieve the results you've always wanted and arrived at your destination without knowing why you're there?

Lawrenceville is much more than course syllabi, club fundraisers, and House traditions. Likewise, college is much more than lectures, parties, and secret societies. Both provide us with the chance to explore what we want, understand why we do what we do, and live our lives as our own-not necessarily how our parents, or our college counselors for that matter, imagined. The classes and activities at Lawrenceville are worth more than a sentence on a college application; they are opportunities for growth and discovery that we must take advantage of.

To this day, Mr. Morrow's instruction is a vivid reminder of the limitless opportunity of Lawrenceville. To me, it is impossible to nail down what a liberal arts education is because it means something different for everyone. There are countless activities and classes to choose from, each with the potential to change our way of thinking. If we take advantage of the system by exploring new interests and leaning into every opportunity, then our Lawrenceville education has been a success. So, close your eyes. Meditate on the value of a liberal arts education.

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