Student Speech by Brian McCurdy '03


The End of an Education

By Brian McCurdy, Class of 2003

The end of an education, it seems, comes all too soon.

Since a young age, we have entrenched ourselves in formal institutions, asking questions, becoming "edumacated." The ultimate goal is an understanding of the world around us, and our place within it. Yet there comes a point when questions must cease to be our only focus. For many of us, that time is now. For others, it is soon to come.

According to R. H. Blythe, we pose serious questions because it "is a way of avoiding the real answer . . . which is really known already," but requires more effort and sacrifice. For seventeen years, our responsibility - with few exceptions - has been answering the questions that were already asked, and have already been answered. While at Middlebury we have been confronted with issues that reveal no easy answer, or have never been answered. We study hopeless causes and dire situations, things that would persist if not for the people who cease asking questions, and dedicate themselves to the answers. Middlebury graduates are those people; and today, at the culmination of our formal education, we become responsible for answers to the difficult questions.

This is a scary prospect. None of us have all the answers. Most of us - myself included - don't even have some of the answers. Some people overslept, forgot the question, and misunderstood the assignment. However, if we focus solely on what we lack, we discredit our achievements over the previous four years. If we are overwhelmed by the negatives, the positives will elude us. The decisions are more difficult when we do not know all of the answers. Our actions therefore, must reflect our best judgments, a product of our formal and informal education. Though formal education may end today, it is the informal which will affect us greatest in the future.

For four years we have been part of an informal community where we constantly learn: from each other, from mistakes, from examples. Today we leave this comfortable and isolated community, though rich opportunities exist where we will continue to learn. Though the options for informal institutions are limitless, I will focus on fly fishing, a community that I know well, and believe exemplifies the possibilities for lifelong learning, improving my competency as a fisherman, life student and person.

Do not cheat. When you look at it from the admittedly elitist fly fishing perspective, using worms is easy, unsportsmanlike, and in essence, cheating. I do not approve of a fish caught if the quality of the process does not match the quality of the end product. Take satisfaction in hard work and the positives that result; it is about the journey, and not the destination. Although we have been learning this since childhood, it is good to remind ourselves that taking shortcuts cheats us all in the end.

Do not lie. Although saying you caught a twenty inch brook trout might make you look good in your mind's eye, a real fisherman will immediately be suspicious. This does not mean you should keep the fish; in fact do not keep it. Instead, a picture will suffice. This should also not imply that you are required to prove your worth to others; you should strive to be the "real fisherman," a confident individual. Lying about a twenty inch brook trout will keep you short of accomplishing this goal. Be truthful and direct, and you will command the respect and high regard of your peers.

Patience is critical to success. Too many people splash headlong into rivers, or decisions, and end up filling their proverbial waders, forgetting one crucial aspect. Take your time. You will catch more fish, and your decisions will be superior. If the situation necessitates immediate action, a quick decision may be the most appropriate, but do not let this instance of urgency define your approach to decision-making.

Be patient with those who do not have patience. Whether it's a person who spooks a large trout in the pool you are fishing, a colleague, friend or your significant other, we can all stand to be a little more patient. This entails a respect for others, their ideas and opinions, their secret fishing spots, and the proclivity to defend and conceal them.

Do not be afraid to ask for help. One should continue asking questions of their field until no more questions need to be answered - at which point one should engage a new field of questioning and learning. At the same time, enthusiastically support others' attempts to find the answers. I would have given up long ago on fly-fishing if I had not asked questions, and learned from patient friends the secrets to catching trout. My success as a fisherman is a tribute to those who supported my questioning.

Have fun. Ben and Jerry have a bumper sticker that says it best: "if it's not fun, why do it." Let's face it, fishing is fun, work often is not. Another bumper sticker says "work is for people who don't know how to fish." Need I say more? Ok, I will. Make work more fun.

Value the natural world. There is an immeasurable worth in wild and natural areas, places where we can renew our connection with a less hectic, more peaceful world than our own. These are areas to relax, to sport, to ponder and to leave alone. Its members deserve as much freedom as we do, which is why I recommend leaving trout in the river.

Note: we can at best hold our breath underwater for two minutes; it is safe to assume a fish out of water can do no better.

No one fishes concrete bedded streams in the middle of a town. Beautiful rivers and enchanting forests provide a more-fulfilling experience.

Be part of a community. Whether a group of friends, or a membership organization, it is important. Your peers and friends are sources for knowledge and enjoyment, and will support you in moments of self-doubt and need. Fly fisherman spend hours in a river to not catch fish; we are a community of odd and misunderstood individuals. We don't think it is odd, we find it therapeutic. It is important to have people around you that understand and relate to the oddities of your actions and ideas. Find that community.

Support a significant cause. To each his own hopeless cause or dire situation, but I support projects that promote clean water. It is likely that water will become the single largest issue of this youthful century. Water is an irreplaceable element of our survival, and the survival of the living world. Trout fishermen give significant effort and attention to this problem, which benefits both fish, and the greater masses. If you take only one idea away from these notes on fly-fishing, clean water is it.

Lastly, recognize that everything is dynamic; one never enters the same river twice. The fly that worked tonight will not produce in a month. Without the ability to adapt to constant change, the fisherman is destined for failure. I may be destined for failure if I keep talking your ears off about fly fishing. If you want I could talk about Michigan, but I won't.

Today we graduate; we conclude a remarkable formal and informal education. Today we become more responsible for answering real questions, and our Middlebury education has uniquely prepared us to give informed and substantial responses. Where we lack proof or decisiveness, there are a myriad of groups and people that are willing to help if we pledge the same support to them. Congratulations, spread forth with the good word of fly-fishing, and never stop learning.