George A. Vinyard '71
Graduates, parents, family members ... faculty, staff, and friends of Illinois Wesleyan.
On behalf of the Trustees and alumni of the University, it is my great privilege to welcome you all -- and in particular to say to the Graduates of 2009: Congratulations and welcome.
We congratulate and honor each of you for your individual achievements and contributions to the University Community. And we welcome you to the fellowship of Illinois Wesleyan Alumni.
To the parents, family, friends, faculty and staff who are gathered here, we share your pride in the accomplishments of these young men and women, and we join them in thanking you for all the support, guidance and instruction you provided to help them arrive at this auspicious day.
Commencement is an occasion for looking back as well as forward. Time will tell whether it has been our blessing or our curse to live in "interesting times", but I dare say you, the Class of 2009, have been witnesses to some very interesting times, indeed. You have been inundated with words and images of war and conflict around the world and here at home, and have experienced a rapidly growing awareness of the fragility of our global environment and of the social fabric that makes civilization possible. You have also witnessed in just the last several months some dramatic, historic and perhaps profound political and economic transitions.
In many ways, the world you are about to step into is a rather grim place. But great challenges can represent great opportunities, even though the latter may not be immediately apparent. What is needed is a broader social and historic perspective -- the relevant facts and the capacity and will to engage in a deeper analysis and understanding of them.
As you grapple with these challenges, I would urge you to consider a motto and a book. First, keep in mind the venerable words of the Illinois Wesleyan motto -- Scientia et Sapientia, generally translated as Knowledge and Wisdom. I submit that these words embody what is needed in our world today -- a proper balance of scientific understanding and humanity in all its historical, social, esthetic and spiritual dimensions.
Now I realize that on this particular day, the last thing that you may think you need is a recommendation for more reading material -- especially from someone who is not a faculty member. But I also suspect that many of you may be thinking about your near and long term employment prospects in these uncertain times. This, combined with the remarkable life and the recent death of the author, is what brought to mind the particular book I would commend to you.
Studs Terkel, who died last October at the age of 96, was often described as "larger than life," and he left us a remarkable body of work. I will not take the time to sketch his biography. If you do not already know all about him, you can easily find everything on the Internet. This is ironic given that he never learned to drive and seemed perversely proud of the fact that he could barely operate a tape recorder and considered an electric typewriter to be his breakthrough technology. Suffice it to say that he was an oral historian and an outspoken critic and advocate of many causes and dimensions of American society and culture -- the ultimate exemplar of a life-long learner with and education in the liberal arts. He was also an amazing talker -- an irrepressible raconteur and barstool philosopher.
But Studs Terkel was an even greater listener -- an exuberant, sharply intelligent and congenitally curious student of humanity in all its forms -- collecting voluminous tape recordings of people from all walks of life. These he distilled and arranged with extraordinary intelligence and sensitivity into books that are not only informative and thought provoking but also very entertaining. He had a tremendous talent for using the extraordinary words and insights voiced by so-called "ordinary" people to tell the bigger story of the American experience and bring a new perspective to sprawling topics such as the Great Depression (that is NOT the book I am recommending), World War II, race relations and the American Dream.
The Terkel book that I would commend to your attention is Working. The subtitle: "People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do" is an accurate description of the contents, but does not do justice to the literary and substantive merit of the book. Published in the early 1970s, some of the jobs described in it no longer exist, in this country at least, and it pre-dated personal computers, the Internet and effects information technology has had on the ways many of us do our jobs -- for that you need to read Dilbert. But the core truths and issues remain.
I will leave you with just a taste of what this book has to offer, and I fear what the world may have in store for many of your generation. This is from Studs Terkel's introduction to Working:
"This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence -- to the spirit as well as to the body... It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations. To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us... It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying. Perhaps immortality, too, is part of the quest. To be remembered was the wish, spoken and unspoken, the heroes and heroines of this book."
Now the book is not so depressing as this excerpt might suggest. It is filled with stories of people who take great pride and derive tremendous satisfaction from doing jobs ranging from tuning pianos to parking cars and waiting tables with grace and excellence. I certainly hope that your careers and working lives are filled with meaning and recognition, enhanced by knowledge and wisdom you take from this place. But it is very important to remember that not everyone who does the work that is a necessary component of our daily lives is equally fortunate in this regard.
Let me conclude by saying that as you pursue your life's goals, we ask you to remember and honor your University and your fellow alumni. We trust that each of you, as a graduate, will continue to think of this community as your extended family and as your home.
And so, on behalf of the Trustees and the Alumni Association it is my distinct honor to bid you farewell as students and welcome you home as alumni. We invite you to return to your University often, whether in person or in spirit. You will always be welcome here and anyplace where Titans gather.