On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama stood before a group of students in Virginia to commemorate the first day of a new school year. His spoken remarks, and those found online here, show a president who is asking the students of this country to understand their role and their responsibility, not just to themselves, but as citizens of the United States.
I was happy, at first, to see that he did not give students a way to get off the hook. No matter what background, what family conditions, what race, gender, or economic status—something is expected from each student. To be his or her best. No momentary difficulty or failure is an excuse to give up entirely. There is no quick fix for success. It is hard work, and the questions he asked hearkened back to the most quoted speech of President John F. Kennedy, asking “not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
“So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country? “
I was instantly reminded of something I had written back in college about Jung’s concept of Individuation. Individuation is the concept Jung came up with for the second phase of life, after the education and structures of young adulthood—when one in middle age seeks to answer larger questions about him/herself and his or her place in the whole—while seeking, too, to be a whole human being. You have already established yourself and have given of yourself to your family and to the community. You have already outgrown the more immature phases of life that demanded structure—you are ready now to ask the deeper questions. Continued...