A few weeks ago I was not far from Crimea. In fact, I was locked in a house between Chechnya and Crimea with an eccentric babushka who was trying to force-feed me potatoes. I wondered why on earth I had ever left Georgetown. I had taken a leave of absence to promote the careers of young musicians form the North Caucasus. But what was I doing, an ex-econ major, trying to help kids in bombed-out streets to succeed in classical music, a seemingly dying and certainly impractical profession anyway?
Whatever I was doing, I certainly wasn’t doing it fearlessly. In fact, I was afraid most of the time.
McDonough Gymnasium is far removed from the north Caucasus, in every possible way, but I suspect that there is also more than a little bit of fear in this room right now. And so what I want to talk about today is something I have recently learned a lot about, fear—what fears are just monsters under the bed, and what fears should make us quiver.
First, you’re probably afraid of not getting a good job. We think about college differently than our parents did. We witnessed the economic crash in 2008. Some of you have siblings who graduated from college but couldn’t find jobs. Some of you have parents who lost their jobs, and maybe still can’t find work. And that makes us afraid, afraid that after all this work and after spending all this money, and piling up all this debt, we won’t be able to find the jobs we need when we graduate. And as a result we make our choices, what courses to take, what majors to choose, what groups to join, not out of interest but out of fear.
I certainly felt that way when I was sitting where you are sitting now, and I hear this from my classmates every day. We want to follow the safe, well-trodden path to a secure, prestigious job. That’s why you think you’re here. But these three years at Georgetown have shown me that I should not have been afraid of whether I would get a good job. That’s the monster under the bed. My fear should have been, first and foremost, that I would miss the opportunity to find out what kind of a job is good.
You are standing at a crossroads. You can take one road and walk blindly down a path marked by materialism and success—as thousands of prestigious university students do—or you can take the other road: you can wrestle with what the “good” in good job, the “good” in good life, really means—which I found in the gospels and the life of Christ. But I’ll warn you: that other road might lead you to destinations you could never have imagined, like in my case, to disputed territories still raw from the wounds of war. You could even become a Russian major.
In the months ahead you will be asked in class after class to wrestle with the most crucial questions: what is the highest good, how do I live a life oriented toward that good. Give yourself headaches thinking about those questions: read what you’re assigned and more, probe your teachers, grapple with your peers. Because answering these questions now could change the course of your studies and your life.
Parents, you may be encouraging your children to do what seems to be sensible and risk-averse. But I ask you: will all of the sense in the world be worth it if at the end of their lives, your kids realize they never even asked “why” and “what for”?
When I left Georgetown in December, I knew my project could fail. I didn’t have enough funds or contacts yet, and let’s face it, the whole endeavor of recording an album in terrorist occupied regions seemed a bit mad. But I was prepared to risk failure because the possibility of helping these artists was worth it. I chose a new metric for success, and that gave me the freedom to step out in faith, and if need be, fail. By the grace of God, I chose the second road.
Your road will look different from mine. But whatever you do, don’t settle for success. Seize the opportunity right here, right now, at Georgetown, to seek the truth about what it means to live a good life. That’s why you’re at Georgetown.
Welcome to the Hilltop. Hoya Saxa.