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As you chart your agenda, enlarge your aspirations from what lies immediately ahead to what lies far in the future. Every decision about the present and the near future charts a line that may be followed to the horizon. When the outer limit of that trajectory engenders doubts, it is wise to consider rethinking your near-term strategy—whether in career decisions or personal relationships.
Aspire to reshape the world in which you find yourself. Your imagination, your ideals, your intellectual acuity, your success are all means to effect a redrawing of societal values and priorities. You cannot be a force for good in the world unless you look beyond your personal situation. Whether helping those whose existence is compromised by circumstance, solving urgent social, scientific, and environmental problems, or altering the spirits of your fellow human beings through artistic or philosophical revelations, your actions can and must make a difference.
But before you change the world, you must transform yourself. All of us struggle with an awareness of frailties that challenge our sense of self-worth. Even the greatest material success is often undermined by self-doubt. To allow uncertainty or worries about inadequacy to cloud our daily existence creates a cage from which we may not easily escape; even should we reach material success beyond all expectations and dreams, self-loathing can snatch all fruits of worldly accomplishment from us.
The path to fulfillment and to making a difference begins with self-acceptance. The ability to judge ourselves affectionately but without illusion is where we must begin. Acknowledging our weaknesses is the prologue to rising above them, for only when we achieve the ability to understand and accept our faults as well as our strengths can we reshape ourselves with patience and confidence. And as we grow within ourselves, so we can and should interact with others to mutual benefit.
When the sand in our personal hourglass has run out, how shall we be remembered? What will our legacy be? A nurse who brings relief to a victim in a battle-scarred distant country, a teacher in an inner-city school who brings hope and the tools to combat and rise above prejudice and disadvantage, a scientist who invents a life-rescuing medication or a process that changes daily lives around the world, an anthropologist that alters forever our understanding of our origins, a poet or musician who quietly sets pen to paper with a message that will bring tears to all future generations—all of us have within us the power to create a potential bequest in our outreach to our fellow human beings. My life as an artist has been dedicated to inspiring fellow musicians to keep audiences up at night with incandescent and shattering messages of ecstasy and terror, of heroism and tenderness. Every human domain offers parallel opportunities.
We may often feel that our fate seems to be to trudge through the mud of natural catastrophe and personal sorrow, but with our eyes fixed confidently on the stars, we can, and must, astonish ourselves and those all around us by transforming the world in ways great and small.
With an open mind, a glowing spirit, and a full heart, the world beckons. There is not a moment to be lost. Hail, farewell, and until our next meeting!
Robert Levin ’68 is Dwight P. Robinson, Jr. Professor of Music.
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