I would also like to thank everyone for coming to support the Class of 2017.
The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. For those unfamiliar, you can Google it later, but not at work.
We seem to be a generation built upon self-deprecation. Born into an age dominated by technology, we see ourselves in a global context; individual power is overshadowed by accessibility to the conflicts and achievements of the rest of the world.
What is our response? Memes. Through memes we approach the world in our characteristic ironic and detached manner, expressing our shared frustrations, joys, confusion and wonder in a simple way that belies their underlying complexity.
So when we say “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell,” we laugh at its simplicity. But in doing so, we also highlight a common sentiment regarding education — that it is full of information that in no way prepares us to confront the practical concerns of our world. Mitochondrial knowledge does not prepare us for taxes, college debt, writing a check or self-checkouts. And it begs the question: What is the true purpose of an education?
In one view, education is solely a gateway to the more practical concerns of life — to get a good job, to make money in order to be respectable, stable, and as a result, happy. Here, of course, is where our modesty in the face of a global society stifles us: What more is to be expected of us than to meet the ceaseless and ever-increasing expectations of the world around us?
I would argue that the true purpose of an education lies in its ability to teach us how we can engage more meaningfully with the world around us. We have been gifted these past 12 years to explore the way in which the world functions. We have been handed resources and unconditional support from educators, parents and mentors to explore different perspectives and develop one of our own in response. This is not something that has always existed.
Today, we have more resources than ever, but perhaps now more than ever, we have distanced ourselves from this purpose; we say the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell as a banal fact, forgetting that that means that the mitochondria, despite being a minuscule organelle, is integral to the functioning of a cell, which is integral to human life, and that that is rather beautiful.
By disparaging mitochondrion and education, we have dismissed that which allows us to think more critically about the world. We must pull ourselves from this habit of ironic simplification developed as a result of failure to believe in our own greater purpose.
This is not a lecture to say we haven’t taken advantage of these resources, or that everyone must value academics, but a plea that we must remind ourselves why we have gone through these past 12 years in the first place, We must think back to what gives meaning to our lives, be it chemistry, literature, construction, child care or music, and use it as an outlet for positive change, which can come in many forms small and large.
As we move on from high school and transition into adult life, we will no longer have these resources available, or perhaps thrust upon us. So it is important to acknowledge their significance on this night and take advantage of them while we can.
But more importantly, we must continue to educate ourselves even after high school and college, which is not to say we must delve deeper into the inner-workings of a cell or read classic literature, but that we must know our potential extends beyond any job description. We definitely have more to contribute than even the dankest of memes.