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As myself and the other members of the Class of 2018 enter the last few weeks before we don our caps and gowns and bid adieu to our years as Xavier students, I find myself prone to reflecting on the successes and failures of my college career, as well as advice I would give my fellow soon-to-be-graduates and those who still have more time at Xavier.
We as Xavier students are inclined to live — both now and throughout the rest of our lives — in ways that are meaningful, successful, happy and impactful. We want to live lives that will impact others and nurture our own selves. Of course, the world we will eventually enter remains a complicated place, and there is no one-size-fits-all way to reach these goals. Each of us will have his or her own unique path to follow. Nonetheless, despite this variety, I propose that there is one essential habit that makes this kind of life possible: reading.
If I had to give one piece of life advice to myself, to my fellow seniors, to other Xavier students and to pretty much anyone, it is this: read as much as you possibly can, and in a meaningful way. This is a habit that we as individuals leading fulfilling lives must cultivate. According to recent data from the Pew Research Center, nearly a quarter (24 percent) of American adults have not read a book in whole or in part in the last year. This percentage changes when broken down according to a variety of demographic, geographical and economic factors but should nonetheless concern all of us.
Modern democratic societies, more than societies that came before them, are built upon and driven by an exchange of ideas. From entertainment to civic culture, competing ways of viewing the world and the way it works are the stuff of modern life. Many, indeed probably most, of these ideas are rich and full of nuance, so they are incapable of being represented in 280 characters, a blog post or even a short news article.
As the massive and wide-ranging historical impact of the printing revolution shows us, the written word is powerful indeed. However, its power grows when it is used in longer form to really engage rich ideas and competing conceptions of the human experience. As Xavier students, for example, we have all read Plato’s Republic, which takes up the question of what justice is. That theme of justice is just as relevant for us now as it was for the Ancient Greeks, yet such a fundamental issue could simply not receive the treatment it deserves in some other form than a dialogue like the Republic.
My recommendation for all of us, then, is to build a lifelong habit of reading — and reading meaningful things. Making this kind of commitment does not require a significant amount of time. We all have many constraints on our time, but I think we can all fit in a little reading each day, even if it is only 15 minutes to help us fall asleep at night. I personally aim for 30 minutes per day, and it is quite manageable when I build it into my routine. And the benefits are worth it.
Being an avid reader does more than just help one live a life of healthy intellectual activity. It helps one maintain a more objective view of the world, which in turn allows one not just to engage with the complex world and intellectual landscape in which we live, but to thrive in it. If we truly want to live as individuals who will make an impact on the world, we need to maintain our intellectual health after it is no longer constantly stimulated by the classroom. The best way to do that is to read, to read often and to read deeply.
Ben Giles is a senior Philosophy, Politics and the Public and Philosophy double major. He is a staff writer for the Newswire from Lafayette, Colo.