Letter to My Daughter upon Starting College

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Rummaging through files I came upon a copy of this letter to my daughter, Elizabeth:

As you depart for college, I want to leave you with as honest and sincere advice as I know.  Ben Franklin once said that an example is the best sermon.  But negative examples also instruct.  The following are actual examples, representative of the kinds of experiences and philosophies you will encounter head-on in college:

(I then cited several examples of politically correct speech, acts, and intolerance  at Stanford, Cornell, Williams, the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan [my alma mater], and other schools.)

Most of your professors, Elizabeth, will be excellent, and you will gain a priceless education from attending college.  But a few of your professors will be militant, intolerant disasters, yet they will be ostensibly intelligent and far more articulate than you.

So what should you do?

First, recognize these bad apples and don’t let yourself, as Joseph Conrad warned, be assaulted by the powers of darkness.  Second, avoid them if you can.  Third, if you can’t avoid them, don’t let them guilt sling you.  Most of their indoctrinations will fall under the rubric of so-called “diversity”—and how, they will ask you, can you possibly be against diversity?  Fourth, and here’s the tough one, how should you react in a class with a bad apple?  If you go along with him or her, you have been dishonest with your principles and yourself.  If you don’t go along, you may well be punished with low grades and public ridicule in the classroom.

While it’s easy for me to say, I’d rather you remain honest to yourself and your principles; this takes real courage, which is the most demanding of all virtues.   You would do best to remember C. S. Lewis, who said:  “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality.  A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions.  Pilate was merciful till it became risky.”  Your mother and I will accept, with pride, your D if it was given as political punishment by a bad apple because you remained principled.

We are delighted that you are attending college.  Do what is right, and honest, and courageous while you are there, because after you have graduated you will have retained your self respect and your integrity.  Your mother and I love you for what you have become and will remain.

Love, Dad

A few weeks into the semester I got this call:  “Dad, I have one of those professors you talked about.’’  It was a course on the issue of the death penalty.  Students read and discussed pro and con arguments all semester; then at the end of the semester, they were to write a final paper taking and defending one side.

Here’s the rub:  The professor told the class just before their papers were due that she opposed the death penalty.  Elizabeth called me to report that some students then ran to their dorms to rewrite their papers so as not to be at odds with the professor and possibly risk a low grade.

Not Elizabeth.  The final sentence of her paper said it all:  “Timothy McVeigh deserved to die.’’

All’s well that ends well:  Elizabeth later attended Oxford University in England, conducting research on the economic policy of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher—who graciously invited her over for an hour’s long coffee and cake tete-a-tete.

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