Columnist Wiggins bids farewell



Opinion Columnist Kevin Wiggins pens his farewell column at the Northern Iowan and offers advice to his younger self and others.


As I write this, I am struck by the fact that in less than two weeks my time here at UNI will be complete. My tour at the University of Northern Iowa has been an experience that has shaped me for the better. However, I can’t help, but to wonder how I might have done things differently. As I stand today I wouldn’t change a thing of my time here, but still the question arises: What advice would I give my younger self?

I’ve been very, very lucky here at UNI. I’ve been able to cultivate strong relationships with professors in both the philosophy and history departments. However, to my younger-self I would first just simply say “listen first.” So, I would tell my younger-self to listen, listen in office hours, listen to other students and listen to yourself. Listen in office hours so that you can get beyond just the in-class content. Listen to other students, because you will never know just what you might learn from people different than yourself. Finally, listen to yourself so that you can become the best you that you are capable of. Had I always listened, I wouldn’t have had such a rocky time as I did adjusting as a freshman.

Secondly, I would implore my younger-self to “allow yourself to change.” There is a great movie from 1970 called “Little Big Man.” It is centered around the life of “Jack Crabb” who comically gallivanted through every possible role you could have had in the wild west. From gunfighter to living with the Cheyenne, Jack goes from phase to phase seamlessly. Change is inevitable. If it is organic, real and exciting there is nothing better. I wish I could have embraced every second of it. Change is endemic to the student’s condition, in a way it is the entire point of a college education. So, to my younger-self I would say that if you listen, and allow yourself to change you will be able to achieve everything you set your sights on.

Thirdly, I would tell my younger-self to engage with and to read the books beloved by people you disagree with. As far as my personal beliefs are concerned, in my college years I’ve been across the map. However, what I mean by imploring myself to “read” is to read things that make you uncomfortable. But I don’t just mean what is assigned in class. In response to a piece I wrote a month ago, an acquaintance of mine recommended Raymond Williams’ “Marxism & Literature.” We have dramatically different beliefs, but I’m relishing winter break so I can dig into the book. To my younger-self, I would say to listen and read. The world is a bright, wondrous place, and you will never know what you truly believe if you don’t engage with people who aren’t like you. I didn’t realize this until my junior year when I took Professor Hettle’s class “American Radicalism.” It opened my eyes to just how dynamic, and engaging the world of political thought can be and always has been. Perhaps this is proof of the value of the Liberal Arts, but to my younger-self and any other student I implore you to read, engage and challenge yourself; the rewards for doing so are immense.

The last piece of advice I would give my younger-self is to follow Immanuel Kant’s imperative to “treat people as ends in themselves.” Funnily enough, I actually learned this in a class with Professor Clohesy as a freshman, but I haven’t understood until now what it means. Just like anywhere else, people in college can be evil and they can be good. While we may never get “beyond good and evil,” we can treat people as they are: worthy of respect and dignity. Treating each person in our lives as “ends in themselves” means to greet them as they are, where they are, with the respect that is due to them and to ourselves.

By listening first, allowing yourself to change, and engaging with others, I think that we can indeed treat people not as means, but as ends in themselves. I think this is the essence of a college education, and the real benefit of the “Liberal Arts” is a real engagement with people different than yourself. So, to my freshman-self I would really just say “live your life, and make the most of it”. The entire point of a college education  is to produce not just an understanding of other people, but to understand ourselves, and the difficulties which endeavoring to do so produces. As my time at UNI comes to an end, I am thankful, and proud that this school has given me both.