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In the curious custom of this venerable institution, I find myself standing before you expected to impart words of lasting wisdom. Here I am in a pulpit, dressed like a Puritan minister — an apparition that would have horrified many of my distinguished forebears and perhaps rededicated some of them to the extirpation of witches. This moment would have propelled Increase and Cotton into a true “Mather lather.” But here I am and there you are and it is the moment of and for Veritas.
You have been undergraduates for four years. I have been president for not quite one. You have known three presidents; I one senior class. Where then lies the voice of experience? Maybe you should be offering the wisdom. Perhaps our roles could be reversed and I could, in Harvard Law School style, do cold calls for the next hour or so.
We all do seem to have made it to this point — more or less in one piece. Though I recently learned that we have not provided you with dinner since May 22. I know we need to wean you from Harvard in a figurative sense. I never knew we took it quite so literally.
But let’s return to that notion of cold calls for a moment. Let’s imagine this were a baccalaureate service in the form of Q & A, and you were asking the questions. “What is the meaning of life, President Faust? What were these four years at Harvard for? President Faust, you must have learned something since you graduated from college exactly 40 years ago?” (Forty years. I’ll say it out loud since every detail of my life — and certainly the year of my Bryn Mawr degree — now seems to be publicly available. But please remember I was young for my class.)
In a way, you have been engaging me in this Q & A for the past year. On just these questions, although you have phrased them a bit more narrowly. And I have been trying to figure out how I might answer and, perhaps more intriguingly, why you were asking.
Let me explain. It actually began when I met with the UC just after my appointment was announced in the winter of 2007. Then the questions continued when I had lunch at Kirkland House, dinner at Leverett, when I met with students in my office hours, even with some recent graduates I encountered abroad. The first thing you asked me about wasn’t the curriculum or advising or faculty contact or even student space. In fact, it wasn’t even alcohol policy. Instead, you repeatedly asked me: Why are so many of us going to Wall Street? Why are we going in such numbers from Harvard to finance, consulting, i-banking?
听我解释。提问从2007年冬天我的任职被公布时与校方的会面就开始了。然后提问一直持续，不论是我在Kirkland House（哈佛的12个本科生宿舍之一）吃午饭还是在Leverett House（哈佛的12个本科生宿舍之一，本科高年级学生使用）吃晚饭，或是当我在办公时间与学生会见，甚至是我在与国外认识的刚考来的研究生的谈话中。你们问的第一个问题不是关于课业，不是让我提建议，也不是为了和教员接触，甚至是想向我提建议。事实上，更不是为了和我讨论酒精政策。相反，你们不厌其烦问的却是：为什么我们之中这么多人将去华尔街？为什么我们大量的学生都从哈佛走向了金融，理财咨询，投行？
There are a number of ways to think about this question and how to answer it. There is the Willie Sutton approach. You may know that when he was asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” Professors Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz, whom many of you have encountered in your economics concentration, offer a not dissimilar answer based on their study of student career choices since the seventies. They find it notable that, given the very high pecuniary rewards in finance, many students nonetheless still choose to do something else. Indeed, 37 of you have signed on with Teach for America; one of you will dance tango and work in dance therapy in Argentina; another will be engaged in agricultural development in Kenya; another, with an honors degree in math, will study poetry; another will train as a pilot with the USAF; another will work to combat breast cancer. Numbers of you will go to law school, medical school, and graduate school. But, consistent with the pattern Goldin and Katz have documented, a considerable number of you are selecting finance and consulting. The Crimson’s survey of last year’s class reported that 58 percent of men and 43 percent of women entering the workforce made this choice. This year, even in challenging economic times, the figure is 39 percent.
对于这个问题有多种思考和回答方式。有一种解释就是如Willie Sutton所说的，一切向“钱”看。（Willie Sutton是个抢银行犯，被逮住后当被问到为什么去抢银行时，他说：“Because that is where the money is!”）你们中很多人见过的普通经济学教授Claudia Goldin 和Larry Katz，基于对上世纪70年代以来的学生的职业选择的研究，作出了差不多的回答。他们发现了值得注意的一点：即使从事金融业可以得到很高的金钱回报，很多学生仍然选择做其它的事情。实事上，你们中间有37人签到了“教育美国人”（Teach for America，美国的一个组织，其作用类似于中国的“希望工程”）；1人将去跳探戈舞蹈并在阿根廷从事舞蹈疗法；1人将致力于肯尼亚的农业发展；另有1人获得了数学的荣誉学位，却转而去研究诗歌；1人将去美国空军接受飞行员训练；还有1人将加入到与乳癌抗战当中。你们中的很多人将去法学院，医学院或研究生院。但是，和Goldin 和Katz教授有据证明的一样，你们中相当一部分人将选择金融和理财咨询。Crimson对于上届学生的调查显示，在就业的学生中，58%的男生和43%的女生做出了这个选择。今年，即使在经济受挑战的一年，这个数据是39%。
High salaries, the all but irresistible recruiting juggernaut, the reassurance for many of you that you will be in New York working and living and enjoying life alongside your friends, the promise of interesting work — there are lots of ways to explain these choices. For some of you, it is a commitment for only a year or two in any case. Others believe they will best be able to do good by first doing well. Yet, you ask me why you are following this path.
I find myself in some ways less interested in answering your question than in figuring out why you are posing it. If Professors Goldin and Katz have it right; if finance is indeed the “rational choice,” why do you keep raising this issue with me? Why does this seemingly rational choice strike a number of you as not understandable, as not entirely rational, as in some sense less a free choice than a compulsion or necessity? Why does this seem to be troubling so many of you?
You are asking me, I think, about the meaning of life, though you have posed your question in code — in terms of the observable and measurable phenomenon of senior career choice rather than the abstract, unfathomable and almost embarrassing realm of metaphysics. The Meaning of Life — capital M, capital L — is a cliché — easier to deal with as the ironic title of a Monty Python movie or the subject of a Simpsons episode than as a matter about which one would dare admit to harboring serious concern.
But let’s for a moment abandon our Harvard savoir faire, our imperturbability, our pretense of invulnerability, and try to find the beginnings of some answers to your question.
I think you are worried because you want your lives not just to be conventionally successful, but to be meaningful, and you are not sure how those two goals fit together. You are not sure if a generous starting salary at a prestigious brand name organization together with the promise of future wealth will feed your soul.
Why are you worried? Partly it is our fault. We have told you from the moment you arrived here that you will be the leaders responsible for the future, that you are the best and the brightest on whom we will all depend, that you will change the world. We have burdened you with no small expectations. And you have already done remarkable things to fulfill them: your dedication to service demonstrated in your extracurricular engagements, your concern about the future of the planet expressed in your vigorous championing of sustainability, your reinvigoration of American politics through engagement in this year’s presidential contests.
But many of you are now wondering how these commitments fit with a career choice. Is it necessary to decide between remunerative work and meaningful work? If it were to be either/or, which would you choose? Is there a way to have both?
You are asking me and yourselves fundamental questions about values, about trying to reconcile potentially competing goods, about recognizing that it may not be possible to have it all. You are at a moment of transition that requires making choices. And selecting one option — a job, a career, a graduate program — means not selecting others. Every decision means loss as well as gain — possibilities foregone as well as possibilities embraced. Your question to me is partly about that — about loss of roads not taken.
Finance, Wall Street, “recruiting” have become the symbol of this dilemma, representing a set of issues that is much broader and deeper than just one career path. These are issues that in one way or another will at some point face you all — as you graduate from medical school and choose a specialty — family practice or dermatology, as you decide whether to use your law degree to work for a corporate firm or as a public defender, as you decide whether to stay in teaching after your two years with TFA. You are worried because you want to have both a meaningful life and a successful one; you know you were educated to make a difference not just for yourself, for your own comfort and satisfaction, but for the world around you. And now you have to figure out the way to make that possible.
I think there is a second reason you are worried — related to but not entirely distinct from the first. You want to be happy. You have flocked to courses like “Positive Psychology” — Psych 1504 — and “The Science of Happiness” in search of tips. But how do we find happiness? I can offer one encouraging answer: get older. Turns out that survey data show older people — that is, my age — report themselves happier than do younger ones. But perhaps you don’t want to wait.
I have listened to you talk about the choices ahead of you, I have heard you articulate your worries about the relationship of success and happiness — perhaps, more accurately, how to define success so that it yields and encompasses real happiness, not just money and prestige. The most remunerative choice, you fear, may not be the most meaningful and the most satisfying. But you wonder how you would ever survive as an artist or an actor or a public servant or a high school teacher? How would you ever figure out a path by which to make your way in journalism? Would you ever find a job as an English professor after you finished who knows how many years of graduate school and dissertation writing?
The answer is: you won’t know till you try. But if you don’t try to do what you love — whether it is painting or biology or finance; if you don’t pursue what you think will be most meaningful, you will regret it. Life is long. There is always time for Plan B. But don’t begin with it.
I think of this as my parking space theory of career choice, and I have been sharing it with students for decades. Don’t park 20 blocks from your destination because you think you’ll never find a space. Go where you want to be and then circle back to where you have to be.
You may love investment banking or finance or consulting. It might be just right for you. Or, you might be like the senior I met at lunch at Kirkland who had just returned from an interview on the West Coast with a prestigious consulting firm. “Why am I doing this?” she asked. “I hate flying, I hate hotels, I won’t like this job.” Find work you love. It is hard to be happy if you spend more than half your waking hours doing something you don’t.
But what is ultimately most important here is that you are asking the question — not just of me but of yourselves. You are choosing roads and at the same time challenging your own choices. You have a notion of what you want your life to be and you are not sure the road you are taking is going to get you there. This is the best news. And it is also, I hope, to some degree, our fault. Noticing your life, reflecting upon it, considering how you can live it well, wondering how you can do good: These are perhaps the most valuable things that a liberal arts education has equipped you to do. A liberal education demands that you live self-consciously. It prepares you to seek and define the meaning inherent in all you do. It has made you an analyst and critic of yourself, a person in this way supremely equipped to take charge of your life and how it unfolds. It is in this sense that the liberal arts are liberal — as in liberare — to free. They empower you with the possibility of exercising agency, of discovering meaning, of making choices. The surest way to have a meaningful, happy life is to commit yourself to striving for it. Don’t settle. Be prepared to change routes. Remember the impossible expectations we have of you, and even as you recognize they are impossible, remember how important they are as a lodestar guiding you toward something that matters to you and to the world. The meaning of your life is for you to make.
但是我在这儿说的最重要的是：你们在问那些问题——不仅是问我，而是在问你们自己。你们正在选择人生的道路，同时也在对自己的选择提出质疑。你们知道自己想过什么样的生活，也知道你们将行的道路不一定会把你们带到想去的地方。这样其实很好。某种程度上，我倒希望这是我们的错。我们一直在标榜人生，像镜子一样照出未来你们的模样，思考你们怎么可以过得幸福，探索你们怎样才能去做些对社会有价值的事：这些也许是文理教育可以给你们“装备”的最有价值的东西（liberal arts education，可以译为自由思考的艺术的教育）。文理教育要求你们要活得“明白”。它使你探索和定义你做的每件事情背后的价值。它让你成为一个经常分析和反省自己的人。而这样的人完全能够掌控自己的人生或未来。从这个道理上讲，文理——照它的字面意思——才使你们自由。（）学文理可以让你有机会去进行理论的实践，去发现你所做的选择的价值。想过上有价值的，幸福的生活，最可靠的途径就是为了你的目标去奋斗。不要安于现状得过且过。随时准备着改变人生的道路。记住我们对你们的我觉得是“过于崇高”的期待，可能你们自己也承认那些期待是有点“太高了”。不过如果想做些对于你们自己或是这个世界有点价值的事情，记住它们，它们将会像北斗一样指引着你们。你们人生的价值将由你们去实现！
I can’t wait to see how you all turn out. Do come back, from time to time, and let us know.