If you’ve not had the chance to watch/read singer/songwriter John Legend‘s commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania, you should. Legend uses cognitive development theory to describe his own experience in college and to sound a call for more truth-finding in our society. Just a disclaimer: Legend expresses some political opinions in the speech, so if you’re not willing to read those, you might not want to keep reading.
“When I walked onto this campus, I felt like I had traveled to another
world, a world that was bigger, busier and, yes, more challenging than
the one I was leaving behind.
Before coming to Penn, like they said, I grew up in Springfield,
Ohio, and much of my education had come from my parents, my Christian
elementary school and the Pentecostal Church we attended on a regular
With my grandmother by my side, I learned to play gospel piano,
and I absolutely loved singing in the church choir. So, as you might
imagine, I heard a lot of sermons. A lot of sermons. Some of them were
rousing and inspiring. Some were the perfect cure for insomnia. And
almost all of them were very, very long. I’m going to try not to do
that today. Sometimes I just wanted them to wake me up when it was time
for me to sing.
But it gave me a sense-it gave me a strong sense of morality, a
belief that there was a right and there was a wrong. It gave me a sense
that there were two sides to this journey we call life. Good versus
evil. Dark versus light. Heaven versus Hell. You’re either with us, or
you’re with the terrorists. Clear choices. Perfect opposites.
Like many people, I found comfort in that clarity. There’s a
certain confidence that comes with being sure about the way the world
works. It’s all written in an infallible book, and there’s nothing left
to discuss. Mission accomplished.”
Dualism anyone? Legend continues:
“But when I stepped off that first plane ride to Penn and then became a
freshman here, things got a little confusing. The lines became more
blurry with each new person I met, each new class I took, each new
concept I learned. That comforting dichotomy of right and wrong was
replaced by what professors here would call inquiry, methodology and
praxis, or in layperson’s terms, a never-ending series of questions,
discussions, analyses and options.”
Legend’s plea — that one should use the privilege of a college education to better pursue the “truth,” confronting deception and obfuscation however it may appear — is particularly relevant. In a technological world that enables us (and our students) to reinforce our opinions by tuning in to the media of our choice, it is now more difficult for our college degrees to get any exercise. We’re told what to think in bullet points, and we’re expected to accept it, even though there remains much gray area to be explored. Developing and using that internal voice — what some might call “self-authoring” — is at the heart of Legend’s message and, political views aside, I believe he linked it well with our current events.
I found Legend’s speech intriguing enough to post here because it fit so well with student development theory and was one of the more explicit references to it I’ve seen in pop culture since I’ve been in student affairs.
Any thoughts? What are the best, more explicit examples of student development theory in popular culture that you’ve seen?