A properly functioning adaptive immune system signifies the best features of life. It is diverse beyond compare, tolerant without fail, and capable of behaving appropriately with a myriad of infections and other challenges. Dendritic cells are required to explain how this remarkable system is energized and directed. I frame this article in terms of the major decisions that my colleagues and I have made in dendritic cell science and some of the guiding themes at the time the decisions were made. As a result of progress worldwide, there is now evidence of a central role for dendritic cells in initiating antigen-specific immunity and tolerance. The in vivo distribution and development of a previously unrecognized white cell lineage is better understood, as is the importance of dendritic cell maturation to link innate and adaptive immunity in response to many stimuli. Our current focus is on antigen uptake receptors on dendritic cells. These receptors enable experiments involving selective targeting of antigens in situ and new approaches to vaccine design in preclinical and clinical systems.