Vitai Lampada Tradunt

A common motto for some educational insitutions is “Vitai Lampada Tradunt.” The phrase is generally interpreted to mean “[They] Deliver Torch of Life.” It comes from an epic philosophical poem by Lucretius, who lived in the early 1st century BC, called De rerum natura (On The Nature of Things) where he describes Epicurean ideas around atomism, worldly phenomenon, and concious experience. While many of these ideas had been expounded and explained by his predecessors (such as Democritus’ teaching of Atomism), the poem is well known for it’s employment of flowy metaphors tailored to the Roman audiance. The Latin text is as follows:

augescunt aliae gentes, aliae minuuntur,
inque brevi spatio mutantur saecla animantum
et quasi cursores vitai lampada tradunt.


The nations wax, the nations wane away;
In a brief space the generations pass,
And like the runners hand the lamp of life
One unto other.

Creech (rhyming):

So things by turns increase, by turns decay,
Like Racers, bear the Lamp of Life, and live:
And their Race done, their Lamps to others give.

Watson (literal):

Some nations increase, others are diminished,
And, in a short space of time, the tribes of living creatures are changed by successive generations,
And, like the racers, deliver the torch of life from hand to hand.

Who are “the runners”? For an explanation, we turn to John Potter’s The Antiquities of Greece:

At this time there was a Race with Torches in the Academy; the manner of which was thus: The Antagonists were three Young Men, one of which being appointed by Lots to take his turn first, took a lighted Torch in his Hand, and began his Course; [even] if he the Torch was extinguished before he arrived to his Journey’s end, he delivered it to the second, and he in like manner to the third. The victory was his that carried the torch lighted to the race’s end: but if none could perform that, the victory was not adjudged to any of them.

If any of the contenders, for fear of extinguishing the torch by too violent a motion, slackend his course, the spectators used to strike him with the palms of their hands…

To the successive delivering of the torches from one to another, there are frequent allusions in authors, who usually compare it to the turns and vicissitudes of human affairs, and the various changes and successions that happen in the world.

Nowadays, when we run relay races, we usually consider it to be a team affair — where we all share in the glory (unless you do something like this). After all, everyone put in an equal amount of effort. Yes, one person actually won the race, but everyone gets a medal… As a runner, why run – and risk failing – without a chance for a share in the reward? Why take the option that doesn’t necessarily maximize your personal utility? The point of the story is to say: Life is not fair. We are essentially runners, with our time and roles chosen by lot.

AP Credits Are The Best Scholarship Around

While many people don’t know what they will study at University, some do, and they can benefit tremendously by taking advantage of the Advanced Placement program. Since was relatively certain of which college and major I’d end up at, I entirely planned out my high school schedule to maximize the amount of credit I could earn.

If I am going to have to take these classes already, why the hell should I take them again?

And so, when dormitory move-in day arrived, I already had 64 degree-applicable credit hours (out of 128 needed for my degree). This has given me leeway to take interesting classes, a lightened load, double minors, and still graduate a year early. While that is fun and interesting, AP classes also provide an undeniable economic benefit.

Yes, you have to do a bit more work than the person next to you. However, in today’s world you have to work harder and smarter than the person next to you in order to succeed. You probably won’t be rich if you don’t work hard. Say you are a High School Junior that chooses to work a bit harder than everyone else and signs up for the following AP classes:

Junior Year

  • English Language and Composition AP (>=3)
  • United States History AP (>=4)
  • Psychology AP (>=4)

Senior Year

  • English Literature and Composition AP (>=4)
  • Physics B AP (or Biology or Chemistry) (>=3)
  • Calculus AB AP (>=3)
  • Macroeconomics AP (>=4)
  • United States Government AP (>=3)

Each year you paid attention in class, studied, did test preparation, bought an AP Study book (which you read and practiced with), and took the AP tests you needed in May. You tried hard, got a little bit lucky on the grading, and made the minimum required scores for, say, the University of Texas to take your credit (those minimums are in the parenthesis).

Had you successfully followed this regimen, you would graduate high school with 32 hours at the University. Since these hours should all be applicable to (most) all degrees, you would basically have just saved yourself a year of college.

No Tuition Paid Senior Year

This means you would have saved yourself 1x year of tuition, books, late-night energy drinks, and beer.. Since you probably borrowed against student loans to pay for this, the interest that you would have paid is also gone. These $20,000 of expenses you didn’t incur saved you $200/month (3%, 10-year loan). Now instead of paying interest, your money gets to compound. Each month you take the $200 you would have spent on college loans and put it into a Roth IRA.

Extra Year Working

With the extra time you have in college you could work a part-time job (covering expenses), or you could graduate early. Say you had chosen to graduate a year early and start working. Let’s pretend you make the median household income with your degree ($54,000), and you lead a Mustachian lifestyle, spending only $20,000 that year. After taxes, you would be able to save around $25,000 that year, which you contributed to your 401k and Roth IRA.


If you could earn a 6.5% real rate of return with both the money you would have paid to student loans and the extra money you made from graduating early, you would have $460,000 in real dollars sitting in the retirement accounts by the age of 60. You could reasonably spend $18,405/year (4%) using this money from age 60 on.

The small amount of work you put in when you were 16 paid you off nearly a half a million real dollars by the time you were 60. Using the extra cash saved from not paying tuition and being able to work 1 year earlier, you were able to generate enough income in retirement to keep you out of absolute poverty. Most people don’t think about the massive opportunity costs of their decisions when they are young, and the ones who do are usually handsomely rewarded.