Anyone in the Ridgeview community well knows about the ominous Senior Thesis that every Ridgeview graduate writes. In this thesis, the soon-to-be graduates are tasked with answering the question of “What is the Good Life?”– what it means and how to live it. Fortunately for us, the Ridgeview faculty does not simply pose this question and then leave the seniors helpless and struggling to form an answer; rather, the seniors choose a faculty member to help guide them along their own unique path, at the end of which will hopefully lie some form of answer.
What is more, Ridgeview students become exposed to the central question of every Senior Thesis in their freshman year, and go through the rest of their high-school career pondering the Good Life in light of the various topics presented to them in their time at Ridgeview. Seneca would describe Ridgeview students as “bees, who flit about and cull the flowers that are suitable for producing honey, and then arrange and assort in their cells all that they have brought in.” Likewise, we, as students of Ridgeview, are tasked with taking the concepts we have been exposed to — in classes such as literature, moral philosophy, and western civilization — and crafting them into our unique concept of the Good Life.
All those who wish to live and to live well must contemplate the Good Life, seek to define virtue and happiness, reflect on morality, explain why it is necessary, and then apply these concepts in their own lives. Why? Henry David Thoreau provides an answer in his Walden, in a chapter entitled “What I Lived For.”
I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear […] I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.
We should all desire to live the Good Life, not only in order to be virtuous, but to pursue a higher form of living. How great a disappointment it is for someone to live out their whole life in “quiet desperation,” as Thoreau recognized, and to come to the end of it realizing that they had not truly lived, and thus they discover that they are no longer content with their life of contentment, but regret not living the life of happiness and virtue.
In order to avoid such misfortune, we must become exposed to such concepts as virtue and vice, good and evil, and especially the Good Life, while still in our youth. The one who contemplates these concepts in his early years will lead the life of self-examination, an essential part of living well, according to Socrates, and keep the life of desperation at a distance. So, we have arrived at the purpose of education.
It cannot be stressed how important education is in the lives of youth. The ways in which children are instructed in their early years inevitably shapes how they will live their lives. If they are taught in such a way that they cannot think for themselves, they will grow up “orbiting” around the “systems” of others, as Ralph Waldo Emerson describes. However, if they are taught to think for themselves and form their own opinions, then they will realize that “the act of thought” truly is “the sacredness which attaches to the act of creation,” — a concept Emerson also touches on in his essay on the “American Scholar.”
Thus, this sort of higher education is requisite in living the Good Life, for one can only arrive at such a conception through Education. The morality of the young relies heavily on the type of education that they receive. Unfortunately, our modern society has fallen short in its instruction of the young. Society has drifted from higher education to lower education, in which children are taught the essentials so that they may prosper in life (though here prosper is meant in a more earthly sense and seems to be more equivalent to “survive”). Our society educates the young, not so that they may live well, but so that they may eventually contribute back to society.
Ridgeview is unique on this front. Here, students are not only enabled to survive in the real world, but to self-examine and to live well according to their conception of the Good Life. While Ridgeview may be, in this sense, an oasis of higher education, the surrounding desert has not been eradicated. We must each do our own part to protect the integrity and morality of our youth, and so protect them from living lives of quiet desperation.