The universities from which I graduated often ask me for things (mostly money). One, a secular, government-run institution, recently asked me to contribute a short note of encouragement and advice to a first year student. I agreed. And then I discovered that my note was to be limited to 150 characters (25-30 words). It is difficult to condense my approach to university education to 25 words and still say something meaningful. Therefore, I composed the somewhat longer version that follows.
To a First Year University Student:
You have been given a wonderful opportunity. Your university is a vast reservoir of knowledge, and you have been given the privilege of scooping out as much as you can.
When I first enrolled as a university student, I determined to learn as much as I could, in class and out of it. I was convinced that if I did that, the marks would take care of themselves. And I was right.
So, my advice is: Pursue knowledge with a passion. Learn as much as you can.
Feel free to challenge what your professors are teaching you—especially if you can offer evidence that they are wrong rather than just an alternative opinion.
Question everything. And I mean everything.
Question Donald Trump, but also question Hillary Clinton.
Question Adam Smith, but also question Karl Marx.
Question multinational corporations such as Imperial Oil, but also question social activist agencies such as Greenpeace.
Question John Calvin and C.S. Lewis, but also question Bertrand Russell and Christopher Hitchens.
Question James Dobson, but also question Margaret Sanger.
Question Pascal, Descartes, Augustine, and Aquinas, but also question Freud, Jung, Einstein, and Asimov.
Question Ptolemy and Isaac Newton, but also question Copernicus and Charles Darwin.
In short, pursue knowledge and truth fearlessly, without prejudices and preconceptions. You might be surprised where it leads you.
A final word. The university system was founded by Christians, and it is possible that your specific university was also founded by Christians, who dreamed that it would expand opportunities for learning and knowledge. The current leaders of your university are quite likely embarrassed by that Christian heritage and want to pretend that it did not exist. But question everything. Roads do not all lead in one direction. When I was there, the university I attended was headed in the opposite direction to that of its Christian founders, and it has continued to head in that direction. But there were also students whose search for truth led them back to the Christian faith of the founders. Some students today still find themselves following that path. Maybe you will be one of them.