U.S. Intellectual History Blog

William Deresiewicz on the life of the mind

A couple of years ago I enjoyed reading Deresiewicz’s “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education,” and I just came across another of his essays that captures the malaise of our time. In offering advice to incoming Stanford freshmen, he argues that college students should avoid becoming organization men and women and should avoid at all costs the obvious paths of success, most of which require no moral imagination. My favorite part of the essay:

At that Harvard event two years ago, one person said, about my assertion that college students needed to keep rethinking the decisions they’ve made about their lives, “We already made our decisions, back in middle school, when we decided to be the kind of high achievers who get into Harvard.” And I thought, who wants to live with the decisions that they made when they were 12? Let me put that another way. Who wants to let a 12-year-old decide what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives?