According to Confucius

by Jason VandenAkker

Born into poverty in 551 B.C., Confucius became the most learned man of his day-a great philosopher, teacher, and mentor. His two primary interests were education and making a difference in the lives of people. As a teacher, he wanted his students to do more than just learn; he wanted each student to become a Chun Tzu, or total being. Prior to his time, only youth of noble birth had this opportunity. Confucius, however, taught that those willing to cultivate themselves by studying and learning could master Chun Tzu, and he sought to develop the total being in each of his students. To accomplish this, he had his pupils study history, politics, music, and poetry. He taught the theory and practice of human relations, and how to conduct oneself in a variety of situations. Confucius instilled in students integrity, loyalty, righteousness, and altruism. In essence, he taught them to be successful in all walks of life.

A little more than 2,500 years later, the University of Utah functions as a modern macrocosm of Confucian aspiration. While time has changed the educational atmosphere considerably, the U has captured many of the elements that maximize education's potential. In an exciting time of information, technology, and globalization, the U of U is a leader in research and the technology that supports it. With more than 2,000 international students from 111 different countries, it is improving diversity and openness to global ideas. Yet in the wake of the information and technology age, the University has not forgotten the foundation of a complete education-analytical abilities and reasoning. The University recognizes that access to all the information in the world without the analytical skills to use it is of no value, that international outreach without the ability to function in a global environment is of no advantage. Hence, the University of Utah continues to excel in the liberal arts and to emphasize history, politics, music, and poetry, as well as the sciences.

In addition, the U is developing mentor programs that provide opportunities to put education into action, supervised by those who are both examples and experts. One that has especially changed my outlook as a student is the Hinckley Institute of Politics. Through local and national internships at the State Legislature and in Washington, D.C., it provides students in public service an education that cannot be attained from books and classrooms alone. Education is conveyed by the people with whom the students associate, the motivated undergraduates with whom they live, the atmosphere of success in which they work, and the hosts who spend hours helping to smooth the transition from school to work.

The Lowell Bennion Community Service Center instills similar principles and values. The center is engaged in recognizing community problems and needs, developing compelling solutions, and implementing them with teams of student volunteers. It develops many of the characteristics that defined a Confucian total being: benevolence, loyalty, integrity, and altruism.

These programs provide students with the experiences and capabilities that will enable them to change lives and sculpt society. Many of these opportunities are created by faculty with visions similar to Confucius, individuals such as Lowell L. Bennion BA'28, Robert H. Hinckley, and those who administer their namesake programs today-Irene Fisher and Ted Wilson BS'64, respectively. These are a few of the many great teachers and mentors of the University of Utah whom we should celebrate in this, the University's 150th year.

One of my favorite authors, Louis L'Amour, wrote, "Up to a point, a man's life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him. Then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes it to be. Only the weak blame parents, their race, their times, lack of good fortune, or the quirks of fate. Everyone has within his power to say, this I am today-that I shall be tomorrow." The most significant contribution a university can make is to prepare students for the world ahead of them, and the University of Utah does just that. The broad thinking that has gone into recognizing these responsibilities, reassessing institutional strengths, and redefining the University's priorities for the benefit of students during the Sesquicentennial Campaign is proof.

For students, the time to shape one's life is now. I feel fortunate to be part of an institution whose intentions reflect those of Confucius-a university striving to develop each student into a total being, capable of success in every future role. Albert Schweitzer stated, "I want to make my life my argument." My argument echoes that of Confucius and the University of Utah: education provides the opportunity to shape the clay of one's life and the ability to mold one's society for its betterment.

-Jason VandenAkker is a senior majoring in political science and economics.



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Copyright 2000 by The University of Utah Alumni Association