• Advice to Graduates: Do Follow Your Bliss

    • Posted on May 13, 2018

    Today's Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier Column:  Advice to newly minted graduates.  STEM and following your bliss: Teaching, transforming, and transcending.  

    Another May, another month of country-wide graduation ceremonies bringing free advice for graduating seniors. Here’s mine, worth up to maybe two cents.   

     “Follow Your Bliss,” insists philosopher Joseph Campbell, who wrote “Hero With a Thousand Faces,” “The Power of Myth,” and a half-dozen other ground-breaking books on mythical truths. Campbell believed that living a productive, happy life means following one’s bliss wherever it may lead. 

    But what if your bliss involves the creative arts? Music, painting, sculpting, theater, fiction, poetry, promise bliss for those talented and motivated enough to do them well. 

    One problem:  bliss doesn’t pay much.  Only a few find careers in the creative arts, so follow the money.   

    That’s the popular argument for not funding creative arts in school curricula, public art displays, or college course work. Seeking and creating mere beauty and wonder is play, not work, and therefore can’t be serious. 

    Stick with STEM, goes that argument:  Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and leave your bliss for weekends and holidays. 

    It’s a powerful argument, and contains enough truth to sway young minds. 

    But I reject it. Graduates of the Class of 2018, if your bliss lies in the creative arts, go for it.        

    Here’s why.  Engaging in the arts leads directly and inevitably into levels of teaching, transforming, and transcending. These are the “why” of art and artists.         

    Everyone engages in these activities on one level or another. That’s what makes them so essential and universal.  Creative artists just do them more directly and more often. 

    Teaching:  Humanity would get nowhere without teaching and being taught. Whether we humans teach indirectly by our actions, or directly with stories and lesson plans, our creations help move humanity toward deeper understandings. 

     Most of us can trace our life knowledge back to either some powerful experience, or a film, a piece of music, a painting, a novel.  I remember understanding “totalitarian” deeply after reading Orwell’s 1984 in junior high.             


    Transforming:  Just as important, we’re changed by what we do.  Life transforms us, and the creative arts gives perspective to our transformations, revealing insights not available elsewhere.  Consider Huck Finn, Twain’s memorable portrayal of a young boy confronting racism before the Civil War, forcing him to grow up. 

    Transcending:  The heart of the artistic enterprise is transcendence. We need to get over and beyond ourselves into the larger universe that’s really out there.  But we experience it only when we leave self-relishing behind, and at their best the creative arts show the way. Kubrick’s iconic film 2001: A Space Odyssey takes viewers “beyond infinity,” provoking awe and wonder.  

    Here’s the kicker, graduates:   Creative artists can bring bliss to whatever they do.  If they become engineers or mathematicians, they can still teach, transform, and transcend as artists with math.   It’s a different mindset that begins with creative arts and artists.

    They can live the “why” of creative artistry in any profession.   

    So, graduates, whatever else you choose, follow your bliss.             

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Hot Button Issues
    • Graduation
    • Education
  • Seniors Acquire Generational Experience

    • Posted on Dec 14, 2015
    Here's a short speech I gave yesterday (Sunday 12-13) to a "Commencement" of 
    UNI seniors and elder seniors together who had been getting to know each other as part of Professor Kathy Oakland's "Human Relations" class.  Each of the seniors were assigned to get to know an elder senior well enough to tell a compelling story about their (the elder senior's) life, which was published in the "SAGE" collection. 

    It's groundbreaking program, and it's generating quite a buzz on an off campus. 


    December 13, 2015 
    NewAldaya Lifescapes 
    Cedar Falls, Iowa 

             Where has “Seniors Acquiring Generational Experience”—SAGE—been all these years?  Why hasn’t this program been around for decades?  Old and young go together like sunrise and sunset, and when they share time between them a whole new day appears.   Until now, most of us missed that obvious connection, at least in a higher education setting.

             The four-semester-old SAGE vision at UNI and NewAldaya has produced a unique youth/age synergy.

             I witnessed it firsthand from college seniors telling their stories in Kathy Oakland’s class a couple of weeks ago.  Their excitement is compelling and memorable, as is the newest printed book of stories, hot off the presses.     

             “Seniors” in the acronym SAGE applies to both young (college) and elder seniors.  Elder seniors inevitably have been transformed not only from schooling and teachers, but by life, having witnessed depressions, wars, assassinations, and technological earthquakes that shifted the very ground under their feet—from analog to digital, dial tones to smartphones, broadcasts to podcasts.

             Anyone over sixty feels bewildered at times and looks to youth for guidance on USB connections and multiple terabyte external hard drive storage devices.  My hat’s off to any elder who’s comfortable with Twitter and Instagram. 

             Thus elder seniors have survived unprecedented change, technologically, culturally, socially, intellectually, and politically.  

             Moreover, elders have personally experienced loss and heartbreak beyond anything most young seniors can imagine.  By the time they’ve reached seventy, they’ve grieved for many lost loved ones and friends, and experienced the suffering that defines the human condition.

             In other words, they have plenty to talk about.

             Sharing their experiences in conversational socializing with young seniors offers the equivalent of an archeological memory dig, a search into the past for what’s real and valuable that would otherwise be lost.  Just as important:  the intimacy that grows out of sharing stories. 

             Let me share a story about my dad, who lived the final eight years of his life here at NewAldaya.

             He was newly widowed when he first arrived, grieving the loss of his second wife. Suffering from grief and depression, he probably wouldn’t have lived much longer.

             Angeleita and I felt lucky to find a place for him rather quickly in an independent living apartment at what was then the Cedar Falls Lutheran Home.  He soon made card-playing friends, and with his gift for putting people at ease, laughter surrounded him.  Needless to say, his depression disappeared,

    and he lived eight more years, celebrating his 95th birthday with friends and family at NewAldaya.    

              Where some elders become grumpier with age, he became kinder and funnier—in the ha-ha sense—and I credit daily socializing here at NewAldaya.   

             For years every Sunday afternoon, Angeleita and I would visit and bring a small cooler of beer. I always felt like my Heinekens were contraband, since Lutherans weren’t known for approving of public consumption.  

             We felt like smugglers.

             After he died in 2008, we wanted to honor his love of socializing by helping create a place where meeting and greeting—with a little beer/wine—gets built into the very design of the room.  That would be a bar, tavern, a saloon, a lounge, or our favorite word for such places, Pub. 

             Elm’s Pub, to be exact, and Elmer, my dad, would be honored and delighted to know that his legacy of sharing an occasional beer and conversation with relatives and friends now graces Main Street here at NewAldaya.  No more smuggling.

             What’s not to like about Elm’s Pub?

             Socializing, playing cards, sharing a drink can be criticized or trivialized as being mere time-killers.  But as I hope all seniors know, socializing at its best means energizing and rejuvenating through storytelling, making connections that would otherwise be missed.

             On a small scale, it’s love.  

             Dad and I grew closer in his later years, and I treasured our Sunday afternoon talks.  We weren’t just passing time. By sharing our stories, we went beyond “father” and “son” roles and became intimate friends, especially as we shared grieving over the untimely death of his son and my brother, Jim.     

             In effect, we had formed a mini-SAGE, and I related our stories in several Courier columns over the years.

             The beer wasn’t important—just an excuse to get together and share something we both enjoyed. That’s why SAGE makes so much sense.   It’s about finding common ground, reaching new levels of understanding and empathy that all but inevitably grow out of combining youthful enthusiasm with elderly experience.   

             So kudos again to UNI, especially Kathy Oakland, and to Millissa Tierney and Kristena Potratz at NewAldaya for

    helping develop and support this game-changer of a program.  Even though the idea was staring everyone in the face, it took visionaries to first see it and then make it happen.

             Everyone wins.   




    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Graduation
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Education
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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


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