Finding Your Voice

I was recently asked to speak to Hamilton High School students on the topic “Finding Your Voice.” I enjoy interacting with high school students, so after eagerly accepting the invitation, I started wondering what finding your voice really means. Is it about me? Is it about others? How do they use their voice for others? Answering these questions was an energizing opportunity for reflection.

As Miami president, it seemed that reflecting on “How Miami students find their voice” would be most relatable to students trying to decide about college and where the rest of their future would begin. My answer is that, no matter their major, every student is helped in finding their voice through a comprehensive liberal arts education at Miami, which provides a foundation that helps prepare them no matter what path in life they take.

The term “liberal arts” comes from the Latin word liber, meaning “free, unrestricted,” and an emphasis on them in learning introduces our student to the ideas and actions of human beings throughout history and across the world. In different times and places, leaders and thinkers have responded to the world around them through philosophy, literature, poetry, music, and art. This includes the voices of oppressed peoples whose messages also inspire us. They have reported the events of their time through history, elevated their ability to communicate through languages, and sought to understand the human community through political science, anthropology, and sociology. By reflecting upon this wealth of wisdom, examples, and, in some cases, cautionary tales in the liberal arts, the student learns from many voices from the past and from others experiencing their own learning journey, as they are invited to bring their own voice to join many conversations. Finding that voice depends on the kind of character, the capacity for critical thinking, and the commitment to continuous learning that they develop.

Going a step further, I realized that Miami students, alumni, faculty, and staff don’t just find their voice – they use it for others. Their voice conveys compassion, demands justice, and creates change. They empower others to add their own voices to the conversation.

It’s everywhere you look.

Daryl Baldwin is literally revitalizing the voice of the Myaamia language at the Myaamia Center. Ann Elizabeth Armstrong is bringing the strong voices of our Freedom Summer past to new generations with her interactive walking tour and app, and she gave voice to the loss of black lives by directing “Every 28 Hours,” one-minute plays last fall. The Hamilton campus Student Government Association elevated the tone of our voice with Project Civility, which has spread to all our campuses and beyond. Armstrong Student Center building services coordinator Jim Rhodes gives voice to others suffering with ALS by continuing his courageous service and being open about his condition. “Dear World” allowed us to express our voices on our skin. And our students participate in a multitude of service projects during spring break, such as the trips to Oklahoma, the Dominican Republic, Montenegro, and Panama City as well as local connections in Hamilton and Oxford, all dedicated to helping others.

We find our voice by listening to others wherever we encounter them — in class, on campus, during trips, through service learning, co-curricular experiences, student organizations and so much more. We learn to use our voice to empower others to speak.

Every person has something to contribute to others. Being able to communicate your ideas and perspectives – finding your voice – is vital for your contribution to have the most impact. The liberal arts provide a way for finding that voice through exposure to others. They teach us how to develop our character. They provide abundant material for critical thinking, decision-making, communication, and action. The habits of study, virtue, and thought continue throughout life – finding our voice, unlike finding a lost cellphone, is not an event with a finish line but an ongoing evolution that ensures we can speak effectively in the midst of changing circumstances.