A class discussion

Last week I had an interesting class discussion with my first-year students. When a student asked: “Since technology is changing fast, what will happen in the future?.” I told them that I cannot predict the future but I think by the time they graduate, the job market will be different from today and it is important for them to pay attention to all the changes and adjust their learning accordingly.”

Suddenly a student added: “If I can predict the future, I would invest in the stock market and make a lot of money.” As the class was laughing, I challenged: “What would you do if you have a lot of money? The class became noisy as some students began to suggest things that they could buy such as cars, houses, or electronic devices etc. I continued: “Assume that you can buy all of that, but still have a lot of money then what would you do?” The students all laughed: “Having more things, a lot of things.” I asked: “Assume that you have millions and billions, then what would you do?” The students kept adding more things to their list and I kept challenging them. Finally, one student admitted: “If I have everything that I want then I do not know what to do with all the money left.” That statement made the discussion stopped as the class began to go back to the reality. I continued: “In that case what would you do?” This time all students looked at others but no one wanted to continue as they have exhausted the list what money can buy.

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I told the students: “No matter how much money you have, you still want more. Of course, you cannot have everything but being greedy, some of you may do whatever you can, even illegally, to get what you want. That is why we have problems as everything begins with greed. You are going to school to be educated, it means to know yourself and understand your roles in your society. Knowing yourself will help you to control whatever you do. To know yourself is the process of maturing and act accordingly. College is the best time to learn about yourselves and develop your characters. Time in school is the best time to learn many things because you are still young, your mind is still fresh. But when learning, you must use both your mind and your heart so you can apply your knowledge according to your role in your society. Being educated is NOT about having the skills but also the responsibilities. You are responsible to yourselves, to your family, to your society, and to humanity.”

One student argued: “But what is wrong with having more money?” I explained: “Nothing is wrong with having money if you earn it honestly by your knowledge and your skills. But if you are obsessed with money and do something illegal to get it then you have to live with the consequences. The problem is greed, not money. You are what you do, if you are obsessed with money, it will control your mind then you may do many things, including bad things, to get it. Currently, most of you do not have money so you wish to have some, the problem is when you have some, you want more. Eventually, you do not know how much is enough and you will become greedy. The issue is money comes and goes and when you lose it, you feel bad. If you are not careful, you will be controlled by something beyond your control. Why do you need to be educated? Is it to help you understand yourselves better? Is it helping you to be an intelligent person? Education is not about just getting the technical knowledge, but also help you to look at the big picture of living objectively. The function of education is to help you to face the reality of the world that you are living in now in an intelligent way. The technical skills you have today will not be the ones that you use in the next five or ten years but the knowledge and the intelligence that you are developing today from your mind and your heart will stay with you for your whole lives. Nobody can predict what the future will be, but you can control who you are going to be, what type of person you will become.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University