The Passion to Learn is still with the Youth

This afternoon, several local alumni and I greeted dozens of freshman students on their way to Rice University. For these talented kids, school starts in just two weeks. Their faces were painted with excitement, and their parents wore a mix of pride and trepidation. I attend this “send-off” party every year to “shine” just a bit on the students and their parents and tell these new students that they have tremendous experiences to look forward to. I remember this very event when I was just 18. These kids will do just fine – they had the proverbial spark of youth. But this year’s entering class of Rice students displayed a spark – a passion to learn that I have not seen for a number of years.

Over the past several years, when asked, these new Rice students would answer that they were going to study (fill in the blank), but they uniformly preferred to speak of what they wanted to do after their formal education. Some wanted to become politicians or lawyers or doctors of scientists. For many years, these bright students have expressed a broad swath of interests and inclinations – and more importantly they were excited by their career ambitions.

This year’s new students were much more specific about what they were going to study, and much less specific about their career ambitions. To my surprise, none who I spoke to were going to study electrical engineering – one student was excited about chemical engineering and a career in the energy industry. The vast majority were going to study “bio-sciences”. Yes, this year’s students were quite different from past year’s.

“Bio-sciences” – what is that? Not just biology – not just bio-engineering – not life sciences – I gather it is a mix of all three domains. While many of these kids were on a premed path to medical professions, most were almost completely vague about their career ambitions. Just “bio-sciences”… They were uniformly focused on learning. They were excited about their prospects at Rice. And they were optimistic about their vague futures.

It is great to see the spark of youth, and it is invigorating. It is reassuring to see the passion to learn again, too. To some degree, I think it is important to milk the “here and now” for all there is – to focus on studying hard in school, for example. To some degree, if you do that, a good future will just come to you – and I think it will make for a better adventure along the way. These students have terrific futures in store.

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