Some Things Never Change: Advice for Students

As students graduate and get ready to leave Davidson, they all get plenty of advice.  Whether they’re going on for further formal education, going into their first “real” jobs, or taking a year to volunteer or travel… whatever they decide to do, they all get advice…solicited or not…from parents and other family members, friends, and their “Davidson Family.”  Faculty members who have been important in their lives are often sources of advice, and that hasn’t changed in the last two centuries, as seen in one of our Rare Book Room titles “Youth’s Friendly Monitor, or The affectionate school-master: containing his last pathetick farewell lecture to his young pupils, on their entrance into a busy world, and their diligent pursuit after new employments….”  This 60 page volume, a gift of Dr. William P. Cumming, class of 1921, was published in 1787 and was written by James Burgh (1714-1775), a London schoolmaster.

Burgh’s lecture began:

“The Time being now come, when you are to remove from under my Care and Direction, and to go into other Hands, which will soon send you out into the wide World, where you must struggle for yourself and either sink or swim, according as you are favoured by Providence, and conduct yourself prudently, or otherwise; I think it my Duty to add to the many Advices I have given you from Time to Time…”


His advice included the following:

There is nothing of so much Consequence toward gaining a handsome subsistence, and arriving at an early and comfortable Situation in the World, as constant Application to Business, and steady Pursuit of the Main Point.”

“Be on your Guard as to Amusements and Diversions, which, if too much indulged, will take you off your main Pursuits….”

“Do not depend wholly upon your own Judgment; but, in the Choice of a Friend, strive to find one who has the universal Approbation of his Acquaintance, for his Integrity and Discernment.”

He also advised that:

“When you know no Good you can say of a Person, whose Name you hear mentioned, to be quite silent.”

And, he recommends that a scholar continue pursuing

“useful and ornamental Knowledge,” which is “the very Food of the Mind, and except Virture and Piety, is the most truly valuable Acquisition.”

He also reminds students of the importance of philanthropy.

It is a fatal Error, though a common one, …for a Man of Wealth to spend his Riches wholly upon himself….”


Good advice in 1787, and still pretty good in 2017!

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