NYU Relaxes Criteria for "Lifetime Achievement"

An English teacher I had in my second year of college started out our first class by writing the word sophomore on the blackboard. He divided the word in half, identifying the greek roots sophos and moron, and translating it as "thinking fool". By the second year of college, he suggested, students have studied many methods and have acquired a lot of knowledge, but this by itself doesn't constitute wisdom or experience.

This was brought to mind recently when I saw a subway ad promoting New York University's School of Continuing & Professional Studies. The ad is dominated by a graduate wearing a cap and gown, and her words "It's more than just my degree. It's a lifetime achievement award."

I would imagine that lifetime achievement is measured in terms of contributions made by individuals that impact the lives of others and the world around them. Such contributions might be in the realms of art, science, economics, politics, technology, philosophy, and more. With this in mind, viewing a degree as a "lifetime achievement award" seems to be a self-interested, foolish statement. One would hope that such a mindset would be transcended after, well, one's sophomore year of college.

I should note that it is entirely possible that this particular poster-person has achieved great things in the context of her education — but I find this doubtful, considering that the ad has no asterisk to identify her accomplishments, and that NYU is using this statement as a broad generalization of the value of their program and not just the accomplishments of one outstanding graduate.

With this in mind, the fact that this understandably proud graduate is expressing this naïve sentiment on the day of her graduation does not speak highly of her education. And for New York University to present this sentiment as an embodiment of its values does not speak highly of New York University's vision for its programs in the context of the world at-large.

All this begs the question — am I so naïve as to invest all this effort deconstructing a simple marketing piece? Or perhaps I am completely missing the point of a brilliant marketing message which exactly appeals to NYU's target audience! I can't argue against either notion, but this begs the bigger question — ought NYU merchandise itself as any other business, or should such a renown institution, whose mission revolves around learning, be more sensitive to the lessons that can be gleaned from its published communication?