top of page

Talks for Student Audiences

These talks are designed primarily for upper-school students in grades nine through twelve and are suitable for special assemblies where an outside speaker is appropriate. Many of them could also be adapted to other audiences as well.


On the Examined Life and the Life of the Student


"The examined life is not something you get by picking up a book of philosophy. It’s something you do by sitting there in your seat this morning and forcing yourself to ask the ultimate questions. And while they might take different shapes and forms as you grow older, they’re the same questions for the sixth grader as they are for the senior, for a sophomore in high school or a new teacher, for a junior getting ready to think about what might be next or an older person getting ready to retire."


This talk aims to inspire students about the value of the examined life and the way in which the great books they read, mathematics and science they study, and art they create are connected to that life.

On the Freedom, Dignity, Culture, and Codes


"Deep down in our quietest moments most of us want exactly the same things. Each of us wants to be free and prosperous in our activities and to live in harmony with others."


Our culture provides students with a relentless message of expressive individualism that often leaves them thinking of things like culture, discipline, order, and codes of honor as enemies of their own freedom. This talk provides students with a way of understanding individual freedom and dignity as deeply connected to the common good and encourages them to participate in the shaping of their school culture.

History, Tradition, and Creative Questioning


"The world needs dreamers, but it needs the right kind of dreamers – not those who want to escape, not dreamers who look longing at the moon and wish for a perfect place where all existence is a dream of ease, but dreamers of a different sort, dreamers who know the real world, who have taken take a serious look around themselves, and who dare to ask the ultimate questions about where we have been, where were are at, and where we are going." 


​This talk connects for students the aim of their education and the future of their society in a way that transcends mere utility.

Ideas Are Dangerous: Thinking Together in an Age of Cancel Culture

"The path to whatever truth you discover this year will lead inevitably through ideas and conversations that will challenge you, make you uncomfortable, and, yes, sometimes even offend you. But you are not alone in a world of dangerous ideas with nothing more than your commonplace book for a guide. Not unlike Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, you have been provided traveling companions and guides for this journey, and you will meet with more along the way. Don’t be afraid of the journey. Don’t be afraid of the truth. And don’t be so afraid to offend one another in the pursuit of that truth that you abandon it altogether."

"It Was Very Good": On the Appreciation of Your Own Creative Learning 


"When you are working on a drawing, of course as you are working you are continually adjusting and comparing what you are doing to the picture you have in front of you or the image in your mind that you are trying to get on to paper. You erase, you shade, you touch-up. You see problems. You get frustrated. Sometimes you start over. But when you are done, when you step back to consider what your hands have made, don’t make the mistake of always comparing it to what the great master’s have done, or even to what your classmates have done. When you are done, compare it to the blank page you started with."


While maintaining principles of excellence and appreciation for differences in both ability and outcome, this talk offers students a way out from the dangerous trap of intellectual, academic, or aesthetic comparison.

What Matters


"You know what doesn't matter? Of course they are nice and we give these accomplishments their due honor, but it doesn’t really matter that you are a valedictorian or national merit scholar or get admitted into a top-tier school. What matters is what you take away from your education about who you, what you are doing in the world, and what kind of impact you want to make."


It is easy for students to get caught up in the dominant narrative of success and achievement. This talk offers them a way to think about the higher aims of education.

Orienting Yourself: Education, the Search, and Your Life’s Direction


"My first and most important hope for any student is that what you do in school would awaken you to the possibility of “the search,” that it would put you on to something. It’s easy to think about this in classes like literature, philosophy, or history — classes where you talk specifically about ideas, characters, real people, philosophy, and meaning. But you can also awaken to "the search" at through biology, chemistry, physics, art, drama, music, or math." 


Framed by a quote from Walker Percy, this talk offers students a vision for the life of the mind and the pursuit of wisdom.

bottom of page