We have a Telos Crisis in this country.
Many people do not have a clear sense of their goals and their own purpose.
They don't know what they are shooting for, or what fundamental convictions should guide their behavior.
They've been trained in hyper-specialized research universities that tell them how to do things, but don't ask them to think about why they should do them; that don't give them a forum to ask the questions.
What is my own best life?
What am I called to do?
Why am I here?
From college they enter the world we all live in, which is a busy world.
The flow of a thousand emails, the tasks of setting up a career and family.
These things distract from the great questions of purpose and meaning.
I find that many people haven't even been given a moral vocabulary to help think these things through.
They haven't been surrounded with a functioning moral ecology and a set of ideal to guide and orient them.
And this produces a great emotional fragility.
Our friend Nietzsche said that he who has a why to live for can endure any how.
But if you don't know what your purpose is, then the first failure or setback can totally throw you into crisis and total collapse.
I see this among my former students, and I see it over and over again in people in their mid-twenties.
The young person without a conscious purpose graduates and hopes by piling success upon success he can fill the void within.
He becomes what the writer Matias Dalsgaard calls " The Insecure Overachiever" .
" Such a person, " Dalsgaard writes, " must have no stable or solid foundation to build upon, and yet nonetheless tries to build his way out of his problem.
It is an impossible situation.
You can't compensate for having a foundation made of quicksand by building a new story on top of it.
But this person takes no notice and hopes that the problem down in the foundations won't be found out if only the construction work keeps going" .
But of course the reckoning always comes.
It produces the crisis, the depression, the sadness.
David Foster Wallace noticed it back in 1996: " It's more like a stomach level sadness" . He wrote,
" I see it in myself and my friends in different ways.
It manifests itself in a kind of lostness" .
" This is a generation that has an inheritance of absolutely nothing as far as meaningful moral values goes, "
He wrote, " You can see the fruits of the Telos Crisis in the rising suicide rates, the rising drug addiction rates.
You can see the social distrust.
You can see the isolation and the lives of people who are adrift.
The fact that you went to Chicago means you'II always have an orientation that is slightly different than the mainstream culture, slightly countercultural.
You'll have a harder time being shallow.
You may not know your life's purpose or your calling, but you know that mountain world exists and you can explore it, and that the answers can be found up there in the Museum of Beautiful Things, and that knowledge itself will be a source of great comfort and stability.
Life at the university of Chicago is not always filled with day to day happiness.
But it gives you glimpses of cosmic happiness, glimpses of understanding the long story all involved in.
And if you have cosmic joy, because you know this story is ultimately about something meaningful, holy and good, you can bear the day to day miseries a lot better.
So that is the good side of what I got here and what I hope you got here.