Don’t believe your professors, you will change the world
What is the point of going to college? Just think for a minute about why you are in college—especially this one—and not doing anything else. For me, and many of you reading, college serves as a place of advanced learning from world-renowned experts, experts who have decades of experience and have put millions of hours of thought into their fields. But no matter how intelligent someone is, no matter how many grants and awards they’ve won, they are all human. This thought is oftentimes lost on students, since professors are seen as an endless fountain of knowledge and wisdom. I have found myself in this line of thinking, but the more time I simply spend living, I find myself increasingly at odds with what professors think will be the direction of the world moving forward. The weight of their accomplishments can paralyze the most independent-thinking student into agreeing with their ideas and not truly voicing their opinion. I am here to remind you that no matter how far-fetched your optimism seems, no matter how much your professor tells you that it isn’t possible, you can and will change the world.
First, I want to acknowledge that this is not a call to ignore expert opinions or history. There is immense value in studying what has happened before and applying it to the present. But this does not mean that history is bound to repeat itself or that we must follow the same paths as those who have preceded us. The greatest parts of modern life came from bucking tradition and being bold. Just think, Apple did not expect the first iPhone to be a pivotal moment in history, but they decided to be different and it paid off immensely. My grandparents did not think it would be possible that black Americans would be able to have a place in the top universities in the United States, but here I am sitting at one of the best colleges in the world. Like anything in life, we cannot be all-or-nothing, but be willing to blend many different ideas and experiences to create something new.
Now back to my beef with Washington University professors. I am majoring in Chemical Engineering, and a big part of our curriculum is learning about the ways in which we use energy and its impact on the environment. Like most people, I want a world that does not get the energy it needs from environmentally hazardous sources. The dream of a 100 percent renewable-energy-driven society is something I wholeheartedly believe will happen in my lifetime. Some of my professors think otherwise. On the second day of this semester, two of my classes had moments when the professor claimed it wouldn’t be possible because the economic and political landscapes had not been favorable in their lifetimes. I pushed back but got the same answers and little discussion. Briefly, I believed that they were right and we would be stuck with fossil fuels until the day climate change destroys us all. How could I argue with someone who had decades of knowledge and experience on this particular subject over me? Who was I to challenge their expertise? I am the goddamn future, that’s who I am. That’s who you are as well. If our professors were the ultimate authority on anything, what would be the point of us learning? The point is to collect the experiences and knowledge of those who came before us and create something new that is beyond imagination. They are a tremendous resource to our development and progress, but that doesn’t exclude them from challenge by the generation that will come after.
Fearlessness and optimism are critical components to improving the world. Giving a giant middle finger to the stagnation and pessimism of the generation before us is how we get where we need to go. If your professors tell you something isn’t possible, then work to make it possible. If you have experts telling you to not believe change can happen rapidly, tap into that teenage rebellious nature we all have and make the world better in spite of the people who made it the s—hole it is today. There is a lot wrong with the world today, but that doesn’t mean we should be crushed into inaction by the failures of our many teachers in life. Journey said it best: Don’t stop believin’.