Welcome to the U of C and the Core

By Joshua Steinman

You’re going to be told a lot of things this week—first and foremost, that you’ve come to one of the greatest educational institutions in the history of mankind. You’ll be told a slew of other things too, including how to get from Max Palevsky to Navy Pier, which coffee shop serves the best espresso, and so on.

Allow me to add something that I believe, despite the importance of those other little factoids, really takes the cake.

Our country needs us.

The problems of today stare us in the face: poverty, hunger, outsourcing, crime, and, yes, terrorism. The solutions to the issues of today begin with our studies tomorrow. Complex evils require complex solutions, and no place prepares it students to deal with complexity more than Chicago.

Chicago’s success—and ours —is in the core curriculum. By studying biology, physics, mathematics, humanities, social sciences, language, art, and history we learn not only these disciplines, but how their attending academics approach problems. For new students, the proofs of calculus and Plato’s Theory of the Forms will soon become your second language. You will learn how to understand the order behind seemingly random spread of both biological viruses and the paint of Jackson Pollock. It is there, in the interstices of academia, that the solutions to humanity’s problems lie.

The great academic triumphs of the last century—the coupling of economics with law and the infusing of calculus into economics—happened here at Chicago under the care of the core curriculum. You too will learn the languages of physics and history, to the point where the swing of conversation from Major League Baseball to Foucault will seem not simply exciting, but normal. Your brain will never be the same.

But alas, though it is fun, it must also serve some ends beyond our own lives. I feel, and I think you’ll concur, that our short time here in these august towers should serve a greater purpose. Keep an eye on the outside world. It is easy to entrench yourself in Aristotle, but be mindful that even the “Greats” wrote not for themselves, but for those to whom the reigns of the world would eventually fall.

The lessons you will learn over the next four years here at Chicago are not only gateways to the ivory tower, but also keys to the world. Academia is certainly a noble path to take, but there is a whole world with a host of problems begging for solutions conceived with the rigor and vigor of your Chicago mind.

Even now, the world is looking to us for solutions. Historians, legal scholars, and political scientists are currently wrestling over the shape of the new Iraq and Afghanistan. Biologists, chemists and physicists are confronting the threat of weapons of mass destruction. The list of problems and remedies goes on ad infinitum.

And they are right in front of you, waiting to be solved.