To the Students

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“Now is the winter of our discontent.” It seems fitting to quote Shakespeare to capture the melodrama that has captured us. The anxiety that nearly always reaches its crescendo this time of year has taken hold again and morale is at something of a low. Students and faculty alike are eager to transition to something new, whether it be a new year, a new season, or a new school. We have grown weary, and though understandable, it is premature. Temperance and prudence, virtue and honor, words not yet dead at Ridgeview, would see us carry on and carry through what we have begun.

The character education we have either taught or imbibed during our time here should incline us to finish well. It is, of course, one thing to learn about virtue and another to have the fortitude to live virtuously.  Surrender in all hard and worthwhile endeavors beckons like a siren from some paradisiacal shore. It always travels under an assumed name, and never goes by capitulation, defeat, submission, or resignation. It never presents itself as simply easier, but justifies itself as more reasonable. If every man were moved by this voice within himself surrendered to it, the great books would be half-written, the masterpieces of art and music left abandoned in decrepit studios and concert halls left unfinished by architects, the wars unwon, every marriage a divorce, every child orphaned, the planet unexplored, the oceans unplumbed, space a mystery and ourselves as much. Our world, and what we know of the one within, is the product of those who chose to carry on and soldier through their self-doubt, anxiety, physical and emotional discomfort, and bouts of disappointment and unhappiness to face fears not fearlessly, but courageously, to risk failure for the sake of learning and trying again, and these are who posterity records and life rewards. Those who complain of small things quit or never take up great things. Being a student may pale in comparison with the exploration of space or the human psyche, but those who seek an easier or surer passage are not signaling to their fellows or future employers or history itself that they have the mettle that is requisite for remembrance. This is chiefly what we have in mind when we quote from Aeschylus that “we learn by suffering.” An easy thing does not teach half as much as a difficult one, and the great and grand lessons of life cannot be given to us by pages or by tutors, but are rather accompanied by as much joy as sorrow, as much elation as anxiety, and thus those who assiduously avoid all difficulty and all turmoil learn the subjects but not the lessons of a full life. To live such a life requires courage. As the Ancients put it – Sapere aude. Dare to know. Dare to know oneself and to be wise and to know that becoming so will be no easy task. As Thomas More noted, none of us gets to heaven on a featherbed.

What Ridgeview wants is for you to dare, to live courageously, to know that simply because you have not been the first across the finish line or first in your class, or because the work has not come as easily to you as it seems to have come for others, that your victory is the less. Your cause, pain, travails, and efforts have not been in vain. You are coming to know yourself so long as you struggle and persist in arduous activity. In this endeavor, you will of course make yourself ready for college, but that is almost beside the point. Many schools can give you that. Preparing yourself for college is simple compared to preparing yourself for a life in which regardless of who you live with or what you do, one thing will remain inescapable: you must live with yourself. It is an undoubtedly sad thing to realize that we do not enjoy what we do or that we no longer love the person we are with, but it is quite literally an unbearable burden of being to realize that we either do not know or detest the person we are.

Long after you have forgotten the formulas, the names, dates, titles, and perhaps even many of the teachers, there will still be that great synthesis that is you. What Ridgeview wants is for there to be enough of you that happiness, self-understanding, and some measure of wisdom will always be within reach and that their availability will not depend upon anything external, because what began here was the cultivation and perhaps even a reverence for the life of the mind. This begins with our habits and depends upon one thing more than any other, namely that you do not give up when life becomes difficult. More than the damage quitting will do to your reputation is the damage it will do to you will. Rather than habituating yourself to defeat, habituate yourself to constancy, habituate yourself to temperance so that you can become the master of yourself, and above all, habituate yourself to humility and courage so that genuine learning, rather than simple memorization of facts and the acquisition of knowledge without understanding, can be brought within reach.

What Ridgeview wants for you more than happiness in this moment is a happiness that will make sense with maturity. The education it seeks to impart is less about fleeting joys and transient ecstasies, and more about eudemonia and a purposeful life lived virtuously, which is to say, in the development of prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope, and charity. It is not an education designed to see you crack or falter, though it may seem that way because of the softening cultural expectations of nearly every alternative. It is intended to prepare you for the far tougher, more troubling, and more unpredictable realities of life and to face them with a constancy of character that will permit you to flourish.

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