Centuries May Change, But Parents’ Exam Advice Remains the Same

December 7, 2022 By Mike Mather, mike.mather@virginia.edu Mike Mather, mike.mather@virginia.edu

Bennett Taylor’s exams were harder than he expected. His father sent him comforting words.

Doing well in school is important, wrote John Charles Randolph Taylor. But more important is relishing the learning experience at the University of Virginia. That, the father said, is the measure of personal growth in college.

“I look upon the knowledge acquired during your college life of your own self, as not the least important result which is to be attained.” The years at UVA will “bring out your full capacity during that time.”

Ahead of exams, a UVA staff member from the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library recently posted the 168-year-old letter revealing that, while the methods parents use to communicate with their children have greatly evolved, the message has remained largely the same.

“I love the advice in this letter because it reminds me of how my father used to counsel me when I was a college student,” wrote Ellen Welch, a manuscript and archives processor, in a blog post for the special collections library, “telling me to savor the years of learning as if I were drinking a fine glass of wine! While we may forget a test score, we remember personal and meaningful connections with faculty, students, and academic concepts for lifetime.”

Great Minds Put to Good Use, Learn More
Great Minds Put to Good Use, Learn More

The letter from father to son in 1854 is part of the library’s acquisition of Bennett family papers, including letters to and from Bennett Taylor while he was a UVA student in the mid-1850s. The letters were donated in 2018 by Elizabeth Kirk Page, a descendant of UVA founder Thomas Jefferson.

The elder Taylor, who refers to son Bennett as “My dearest Boy,” urged Bennett to “devote yourself with all your powers” to studies, but also reminded that an exam grade will not be the sole gauge of achievement.

“I do not think that success at the University at all necessary to our future success in life,” the father wrote. “The main object to be aimed at in after life, it seems to me, is to be good & useful & to perform faithfully & diligently the duties which accident & your own inclination point out to you.”

In other words, study hard in school, be a good person, and do your best wherever fate and your skills may take you.

That’s good advice in any century.

Media Contact

Mike Mather

Managing Editor University Communications