Self-Fashioning in Society and Solitude

From Harvard Magazine:

WoolfSelf-fashioning is part of the age-old purpose of higher education, particularly in the liberal arts and sciences. The key point is to be aware, sometimes, that this is happening—to deliberately engage in fashioning—not just let events and experiences sweep you along without your conscious participation. Richard Brodhead expressed this well in his speech to the entering class as dean of Yale College in 1995: “You’ve come to one of the great fresh starts in your life, one of the few chances your life will offer to step away from the person you’ve been taken for and decide anew what you would like to become.” In this mood, students typically see college as a place where a new stage of life’s journey begins. “Incipit Vita Nova” was one motto of my alma mater, Wellesley, and it surely seemed appropriate at the time.

You now have this incredible opportunity to shape who you are as a person, what you are like, and what you seek for the future. You have both the time and the materials to do this. You may think you’ve never been busier in your life, and that’s probably true; but most of you have “time” in the sense of no other duties that require your attention and energy. Shaping your character is what you are supposed to do with your education; it’s not competing with something else. You won’t have many other periods in your life that will be this way until you retire when, if you are fortunate, you’ll have another chance; but then you will be more set in your ways, and may find it harder to change. You now also have the materials to shape your character and your purposes: the rich context, resources, incomparable opportunities that Harvard provides. And the combination of time and materials is truly an opportunity to treasure. My purpose in this essay is to think with you about how you might use this time and these materials wisely, with full awareness that this experience will be unique for each of you, but also the conviction that since countless other men and women have set out on the same journey, they can offer some perspectives that will be helpful to you now.

More here.