President Daniel H. Weiss presented his farewell remarks to graduating seniors at the 177th Commencement.
As you prepare to leave Lafayette and begin the next chapter of your lives, I wish you all much happiness, but I also hope that on your journey you will challenge yourselves to seek a life of personal and professional fulfillment, for these are very different things. In my view, a life of meaning and purpose requires some measure of both.
To be happy is to live a life filled with comfort, pleasure, and the opportunity for love. To be sure, these are very important things. On the other hand, fulfillment is something deeper and almost certainly more difficult to achieve. As philosopher Susan Wolf has written, “Fulfillment is what gives meaning to life. To someone who finds himself puzzled by why, despite having a good job, a loving family, and a healthy body, he feels that something is missing from his life, it provides an answer. To someone trying to decide what career to pursue, or more generally, how to structure his life, it advises against focusing too narrowly on the superficial goals of ease, prestige, and material wealth.”
To seek a life of fulfillment is to pursue a greater challenge because it requires that you understand yourself well enough to identify what is most important to you—and then to pursue that which inspires your passion and which has value beyond yourself. Such a pathway is almost never easy, and often it isn’t even fun. But making this choice and putting in the effort to realize those goals that come from deep inside yourselves offers its own reward, for you cannot accomplish that which you do not seek.
This idea was well expressed by Henry David Thoreau, who wrote, “It is an important difference between two characters that the one is satisfied with a happy but level success but the other as constantly elevates his aim. Though my life is low, if my spirit looks upward habitually at an elevated angle it is, as it were, redeemed. When the desire to be better than we are is really sincere we are instantly elevated, and so far better already.”
I am confident that your time at Lafayette has helped you to prepare for what lies ahead, and I hope that you will, as Thoreau says, “elevate your aim.” The choice is yours and the possibilities are unlimited. I wish you the best of luck.