All opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Imagine your mind emptied entirely of everything it gained from a formal education, from a series of lectures, assigned textbook readings, seemingly endless study sessions, and testing designed to prove you endured all of the above. What then, of your intellectual being, would be left?

For the average college graduate in the United States, it takes 17 years of hard determination to finally obtain a college diploma, certifying the successful completion of an education promised to lead to greater flourishing in life. 

Certainly a formal education positively affects millions of Americans on their journey of fulfilling their unique callings, but to esteem academia as the highest symbol of intellectual achievement minimizes the vastly greater essence of knowledge.

“What is truth?” the Roman official Pontius Pilate said, as he interrogated Jesus to either confirm or deny the accusations made against him. Yet even with a sentencing of death moments away, and the free opportunity to plead his case, Jesus remained humble before Pilate, a political leader with authority given only by God. Leaving his chambers, Pilate declared to the public no guilt found against Jesus. In speaking with Jesus, Pilate encountered not just the truth, but the source of truth.

“What is truth?” stands as one of the greatest questions of all time. This humble inquiry genuinely challenges the origins of truth and the countless human claims made to the truth, including the academic ones. While attaining truth does not lie beyond the grasp of humanity, perhaps we should continually reexamine how we define it. 

Educators, as instructors of truth, hold one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Unfortunately, in sincere efforts to present truth, it can sometimes be misrepresented. But even though our attempts to seek truth may be flawed at times, we still must celebrate the process of trying.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “knowledge” is defined as “facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.” 

Can you recall any moments of your academic education when knowledge did not live up to this standard? How about the times knowledge was presented as theoretical and not practical? How about the times knowledge was presented as a period and not a question mark, or even a comma?

Graduates of the class of 2020 face a seemingly new world. Why is it that a 17-year education, promising a level of certainly upon completion, fails to provide some graduates with strategies for addressing our world’s present uncertainties? 

Maybe the error to this problem is our approach. The future will never be certain, and the class of 2020 can’t know that future any more than the class of 2019 did when they graduated. It would benefit us all to consider a few exercises of humble inquiry, rather than viewing our intellect as complete, whether we’re graduates of the class of 2020 or any class prior.

As a recent graduate myself, I can say: what an amazing 17 years of formal education this has been! But it shouldn’t be anything more than a beginning. Knowledge is far more vast than our capacity to fully contain it. What a relief that may be to those who are overwhelmed by trying to do just that. There’s wisdom in recognizing that we don’t know.

Within Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” is a revelation that truth is. Truth is alive and accessible, not limited by the past or our level of formal education. Regardless of your experience in college, you still have the opportunity to grow your intellect, to thrive beyond your diploma. Resist the temptation to feel done, to stop thinking, to stop experiencing, and to stop asking questions.

Congratulations to all the 2020 graduates who have successfully completed those 17 years!