A University Education should never be Wasted

4/28/11
Dear Radhika,

A university education should never be wasted on a job.

When I heard that you had been selected for Berkeley and that you had elected to attend this school, I was delighted. Berkeley is a top school, not because some rating agency says so, but because of its diversity of classes, its location in the San Francisco Bay area and its strong traditions of questioning and challenging standard conventions of thought. The Bay Area pulses with energy. San Francisco is a truly world class city. It is on the cutting edge of innovation and new ideas, especially in the sciences, the high tech field and the humanities. The scenery is world class and it faces the pacific rim to receive all the ideas of the orient. You were not alive during the 1960s and 70s, but the Bay Area and this school in particular became the heart of a revolution of change in politics, social issues, art and music—some of it good, some of it not so good—that swept over the country and much of the world. Berkeley forged its reputation as a seat for non conventional thinking, which it has maintained ever since. The ideas emanating from the Bay area are still a powerful engine that drives change in this country. Berkeley is a university’s university.

Radhika, when I was your age I would lay in bed with the University of Toronto’s catalogue of courses in my hand and I would dream of all the different subjects I could study, subjects that one could never find in a high school. The University of Toronto is a unique place like Berkeley because it too was big enough to offer a huge diversity of subjects. It had classes in Egyptology including hieroglyphics. There was a center for Medieval Studies. It even included a huge Asian studies program with Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese, and a department of Sanskrit and Indian studies. One could learn Pali and even Tibetan at the University of Toronto. In other words, the University of Toronto was one of those world class schools where one could find training in just about any field of studies, even the most obscure. Berkeley is like that too. I remember telling myself to try something different. Take advantage of the huge array courses and study something that touches the heart, at least one course. Don’t just think in terms of getting a job. And, of course, you know a little of what path I chose.

I would like to see one of our children discover warp drive. And I mean this both literally and metaphorically. Warp drive as it was conceived in the mythology of Star Trek is a means of propulsion that allows a space ship to travel faster than the seed of light. It is pure science fiction, but I’m sure it’s waiting to be discovered. Someone should develop it and you, Radhika, with your mathematical genius combined with the nonconventional traditions of Berkeley could do this. But in a metaphoric sense, I ask you to reach out for the stars and attempt the seemingly impossible, push the limits of creative thought, “follow your bliss” and take full advantage of what a large and diverse school like Berkeley can offer.

But there are dangers that go along with an education coming from a school like Berkeley. I’ve often warned parents not to send their children to Berkeley for an undergraduate education. I advise them to wait until their children’s minds are more mature and less able to be influenced by the radicalism, distracted ideas and disillusionment that can also come from a school of this caliber. Simply put, Berkeley can be dangerous. How many suicides have occurred by students who have jumped from the main bell town in the center of that campus? These were young people unable to cope with the universe of ideas that enveloped them while at school. Usually we worry about our children leaving home for the first time becoming pulled off course by parties, sex, and “rock’n roll.” But at Berkley we worry that our children will become pulled away by political movements or social causes. Radhika, chaining oneself to the front doors of corporate America, demonstrating in the streets, or burning one’s draft card or bra in public is not the best way to effect change in the world. A better way is to take the reins of power through education. This is my concern. If you want to effect change in the world become a chief justice, a Nobel scientist, a secretary of state, a Pulitzer prize winner, become the best in your chosen field.

So, Radhika, you are about to attend one of the best schools in the world. It is located in a world class place and it has a reputation and history of pushing the limits of thought and experimenting with new intellectual ideas and values. My years in college were some of the best years of my life. I hope you enjoy yours. Remember why you are there. Don’t become disillusioned and don’t become pulled off course by the topical issues of the day.

Love Pita


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