A Gift of Lehman's Emphasis on Liberal Arts

With Thursday’s commencement now another milestone in Lehman College’s lengthening history, not to mention in the lives of all its graduates, it is a good time to reflect on the common experience for all those graduates. No matter the path that brought them to Lehman College, nor their field of study, they all share a rich exposure to the Liberal Arts.

Liberal Arts teaches students to address challenges and opportunities from many different perspectives. It helps them raise the questions that should be raised and cultivate critical thinking skills that can only serve them well throughout their lives. It helps them find areas of common ground with other people on which they can work together, motivate and lead diverse teams. It gives them the inspiration to persevere through difficulties and the initiative to press ahead. Perhaps most valuable of all, it can help them foster or expand their creativity in a world in which differentiation is increasingly important.

For a rough illustration, think of a reflection in moving water. As the light is refracted, one might see details that one might ordinarily miss. Below is a reflection of the New York Botanical Garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, one of the Bronx’s most familiar landmarks

Occasionally, plants growing in the water add a creative touch to an image. When that happens, one moves beyond water’s ability to mirror images (or imitation) to something new (an invention). Below, the combination of a lily pad and reflection of pond irises at the New York Botanical Garden creates a “new flower” that can only exist for a moment of time in a pool of water

Sometimes, the creatures that reside in a body of water join the creative process. Below is an image of the first clouds of an approaching storm, in which the “cloud” was created from a turtle’s moving along the bottom of a shallow lake and the “leaves” seemingly flying from the first gusts of wind were the result of a school of tiny fish swimming in the turtle’s wake.

A sound liberal arts foundation provides the “waters” and other elements that tease out one’s creativity.  That creativity is brought to life wherever there is art, be it sculpture, painting, literature, or music.

It is that artistic expression that liberates one’s talents and abilities, perhaps pushing them to frontiers that one had not previously imagined. That role of art-as-liberator of one’s creativity finds meaning in Oscar Wilde’s observation that “It is through Art and through Art only that we can realize our perfection.”

Congratulations to the Class of 2013. May you leverage what Lehman College has given you to realize the best of what life has to offer.

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