Elliot David, Hunter College 2019
(Essay Contestant Semi-Finalist)
THE IMPORTANCE OF LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION IN THIS ERA OF BLUSTER
Since graduating from Hunter College last year, I have learned to appreciate the importance of my liberal arts education, especially in these times of tumult. This lesson was ever-salient while I studied Global Affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing through the Schwarzman Scholars Program. Between amazing classes, inspiring mentors, and exploring China’s many facets, I enjoyed countless experiences for which I am incredibly appreciative. I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to meet some of the most brilliant and kind people, most of whom I was fortunate enough to call my classmates. While the last 12 months have been filled with near conflict, political turmoil, climate devastation, and a public health crisis, we continued our mission of critical thinking and diplomacy. At our virtual graduation, Madeline Albright, our keynote speaker, imparted upon us crucial wisdom. She instructed us to “be, in this era of bluster, a builder of bridges.” These words have taken on a new meaning in the face of humanity’s shared crises, the solutions for which are only possible through nuance and collaboration, essential principles of the liberal arts.
I did not expect my undergraduate liberal arts education to be so valuable, but this year has shown that the ability to seek out multiple points of view and to understand others is a powerful tool. I entered college with the intention of studying Astrophysics and Cosmology, but somewhere along the way, I shifted course to major in both Political Science and Economics. By the time I was accepted into the Schwarzman Scholars program, I felt trepidation at the prospect of trying to find a job in the tech-enabled economy, and I worried that I had shot myself in the foot by pursuing a liberal arts education. The traditional hard sciences are essential for understanding our world, yet learning how to think is just as important as knowing what to think.
This year has shown me that while science and technology will inevitably be required to solve some of the world’s most pressing inequality, climate change, public health challenges, it is ultimately our humanity that will dictate how these solutions are executed. How useful are innovative financial mechanisms if they widen the gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged? What good are clean technologies if they are too expensive to be deployed at scale in the Global South? A COVID-19 vaccine would be an immense achievement, but what does it say about humanity if only wealthy nations are given access to the vaccine as they simultaneously reduce biodiversity, enabling the outbreak of future coronaviruses? Building bridges, cultural connections, and mutual understanding between people is imperative to navigate and solve these present and future challenges.
The study of Global Affairs is as ambiguous as liberal arts disciplines go, but inherent in this field is the intersectionality of universal challenges. The friends that I made this year recognize this nexus, which has enabled them to bring about all sorts of positive change. Some students allevite poverty in Rwanda by strengthening local agribusinesses, others advocate for disabled youth in conflict zones. They all demonstrate some type of fidelity to others, which has motivated me to use my liberal arts education to address climate change through the partnership of technology, economics, and international literacy. The present challenge of COVID-19 has exacerbated what was already a chaotic world, making it even more difficult to predict what will come next. Using nuance and collaboration as our guide, we must reminder that the best way to predict the future, is to shape it.