By Dean Christopher P. Long on August 27, 2019 on cplong.org
Dear Class of 2023,
Welcome to Michigan State University!
As we prepared our Welcome to MSU video this year, I found myself unexpectedly face-to-face with a picture of my past self as a first-year student at Wittenberg University. It brought me immediately back to a transformative time in my life.
The idea of living in one place when I went to college was exhilarating. My parents divorced when I was 7 years old, so for almost a decade my brother and I had been moving between my mother’s and my father’s house every two weeks. It would be nice, I thought, to have one place to live all year.
Still, the 10-hour drive from Philadelphia, where I grew up, to Springfield, Ohio, home of Wittenberg University, was marked more by anxiety than excitement. Living in my own place was one thing, living on my own, quite another. As my Mom and I shopped for all the things I would need for my dorm room, I could feel my emotions come increasingly to the surface. When it finally came time to give her a hug goodbye, I cried and cried.
Looking back, I now recognize that time as a pivotal period of transition for me, as the opening of a new world of ideas, as the beginning of an intellectual adventure that has come to shape my life. But at the time, despite my excitement, it felt mostly like loss and loneliness.
It wasn’t long, however, before I met Peter Tyksinski, a fellow first-year student who has become a lifelong friend. What I found in Peter then, and continue to value now, is a friend who loves ideas, reads deeply, and makes me laugh. He is a person of immense creativity who travels broadly and allows himself to be changed by the cultures he encounters. His study away experiences lent me the courage to study abroad in Vienna in the Fall of 1989 — where I began to learn German and witnessed, first hand, the crumbling of the Berlin Wall.
It wasn’t long, too, before I found myself sitting in an Introduction to Philosophy course that challenged me to consider what makes life meaningful, not in the abstract, but as an urgent question that has come to animate my life: what makes your “one wild and precious life” meaningful?
Soon, my mind was on fire with new ideas, my horizons expanded by transformative experiences. It was as if I was beginning to wake up to a life rich in meaning beyond what I could previously have imagined. Deepening our engagement with the world and those we encounter in it is at the heart of the liberal arts education on which you are now embarking.
You stand at the beginning of a great intellectual adventure. The opportunities before you are limited only by the capacity of your courage to try something new, to push beyond the boundaries of what is familiar and comfortable. And you will need courage, because learning always involves failure, growth requires resilience, and a fulfilling life calls us to put purpose into practice.
What I did not fully realize then, as I waved goodbye to my mother and to my younger self, were the opportunities opening for me as I embarked on an educational adventure that has enriched and shaped my life.
We, the faculty and staff of the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State, are here to support your educational adventure. Indulge your curiosity by taking a course outside your comfort zone; study cultures different from you own; find an internship abroad in a country that speaks a language you have yet to learn; put your values into practice by giving back to the communities about which you care; engage in research with a member of our world-class faculty; join one of more than 900 MSU student organizations. Michigan State University is rich with opportunity, and you are ready for what we have to offer.
Imagine your future self, 30 years from now, looking back at a picture of yourself during this first year of college — what will you have done to become the person you now value yourself to be?
Christopher P. Long
Dean, College of Arts & Letters