When he was 21 Langston Hughes quit Columbia University. He’d been there only a year. He signed on as a member of the crew on a steamship bound for the Canary Islands and Africa. When the boat was off Sandy Hook, Hughes took his college books on deck and threw them into the ocean.
The grand gesture impressed no one at Columbia University. But grand gestures never impress an audience as much as they impress the person making the gesture. We make some of our grandest gestures when we are young and nobody is paying attention to us. Everybody else is too busy working and we don’t know yet what work is. We are like the guy on the first tee who takes five practice swings and waggles his club around and looks repeatedly up the fairway with a serious expression, and then tops it thirty yards into the deep rough. We are novices, and novices are all about gesture and large ideas.