The combination of initiative and risk-taking is necessary, I believe, for creativity to ensue. And creativity is the factor that makes productive change possible. Now, when I say “creativity,” I mean it in the broadest imaginable application, even if artistic creativity is what springs most immediately to mind for most of us. . . .
It takes a while—particularly for 9th graders—to apply the concept of “creativity” to an activity such as writing an essay on the Odyssey. It’s so easy merely to complete an assignment, without the bother of imagining a more interesting approach to doing it. One of the purest pleasures of teaching, by the way, is the occasional moment when a student “gets it,” realizes what you were trying to do, and writes or stops by to let you know: “Now, I understand.” The insight occurs most often, I imagine, when students have unconsciously engaged in the metacritical examination of their efforts that forms so essential a piece of what we ask them to do in English courses. . . .
Too often students chafe at any restriction, which they almost inevitably see as unfairly limiting their creativity. But, of course, all of human activity, even human life, necessarily has limits. Some of us are less physically gifted, some less intellectually, others artistically, etc. But with the right attitude, those limitations may lead to new discoveries. For a number of years, I have used a postcard project that challenges students to represent (note that I did not say “illustrate”) an important idea from whatever we happened to be reading, e.g., Homer, the Bible, Romeo and Juliet. Since a postcard in this case needed to measure exactly 4” x 6”, and had to arrive at the school unpackaged and unprotected via the US mails by a certain date, limitations existed on the potential materials. As I pointed out to you as 9th graders, neither glass nor chocolate cake was likely to survive the franking process at the post office. You students either completed the postcard with a workmanlike view to getting it done or, infrequently, hit upon a method to extend the restrictions and produce a creative solution. I was awestruck when a student mailed me a block of wood of those 4” x 6” dimensions but laminated and stacked about eight inches tall. I still have it as a fine example of creative possibility.
So, seniors, those are the two pieces of advice I am hoping you’ll carry with you, not only as you go on to further academic attainment, but throughout your lives. Initiative and risk-taking are likely to lead to creative solutions as you seek to make the world a better place. And since you will continue to be bombarded on all sides by vast amounts of information that ought to remain suspect: believe nothing of what you are told, no more than half of what you read—and never trust a bearded man.