As we approach the graduation of our 2014 BIC class, last week we paused to celebrate their many accomplishments at the BIC Senior Recognition Banquet. Among those who shared with the graduating class was Dr. Sam Perry, Assistant Professor in BIC. Dr. Perry was gracious enough to allow his remarks to be posted here. Enjoy.
It is funny to stand in front of you all and think that nine years ago I was sitting in a chair listening to closing remarks at my own Senior Recognition Banquet, and I recall thinking in that moment that I was closing a chapter of my life. I suppose that was true in some ways, but in preparing these remarks for you all this evening it occurs to me that your graduation might more aptly be thought of as an epigraph—not to be confused with an epitaph. Often one of the most interesting and telling parts of any writing is the quotation that one finds at the beginning of the piece. So, I think it more fitting to consider your college career an epigraph to all of things that you now find yourself prepared to do: start a job, start an internship, graduate school, a fellowship, or setting off on a different path. You all are poised to do great things.
Rather than talking about one thing coming to an end, I would talk about words that I find particularly meaningful at the outset of things. So, I will offer you a few potential epigraphs that a BIC’er might carry with them into the wild blue yonder beyond the green and gold that you have called home for the past few years.
First, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” – Ludwig van Wittgenstein.
You all have learned languages over your courses of study that have expanded your world. Each of you has earned a degree- you have majored in something or multiple things, you might have picked up a minor or minors along the way, too. I’d suggest that each of your specializations is a fluency in a particular language that you will set about putting to various purposes. This fluency in your area of study means one very important thing- that you have learned how to study a language: physics, biology, history, political science, philosophy, history, social work, etc… academic subjects predicated on solving problems by employing specialized languages. I encourage you to continue learning your languages and expanding the limits of your worlds. As lifelong learners you will expand you language and your world, you will learn new languages and explore new worlds.
It will also be important as you explore these discursive worlds to keep your feet firmly grounded with the proper regard for your fellow person. With that in mind I offer you another possible epigraph from William Faulkner’s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech,
“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”
The languages that you have learned to solve problems mean something only so far as they are written and spoken with a mind dedicated to treating others compassionately, a willingness to sacrifice in the service of something greater than one’s self, and a notion that your words and actions contribute to the spirit of human endurance. Your gifts are many and your potential are great, so keep in mind that what will make you great is your ability to marshal those gifts and that potential in service of other people.
To that end, I offer a third epigraph from my favorite author Kurt Vonnegut (I promise, I will only offer four and you ought to know what the fourth one is from a mile away), in A Man Without a Country, Vonnegut says,
“No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our corporations, our media, our religious and charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful…” Vonnegut continues that he wishes his epitaph to read, “THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD WAS MUSIC.”
Music is made to be made and heard in the presence of others, in music we find one of the ultimate modes and means of sharing. Do not forget to stop and listen to the music of others, to make music of your own and to share the truths that you find along your paths. It will remind you that no matter how mired the path behind or ahead of you may seem that there is still something wonderful and it is to be shared with other people. It is in other people that we find ourselves and meaning in our lives.
This leads me to the last epigraph that I will offer this evening,
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
You were sung into the BIC on the notes of Socrates, so I metaphorically, thankfully, sing you out with Socrates. Remember that your languages, your faith in the endurance of the soul, and the fact the music is still wonderful provides you with a means to lead an examined life, the worthwhile life—and through this examination to make the most of your lives and those around you. So, in the words of Edward R. Murrow, “Goodnight, and good luck.”