Tag Archives: commencement speeches

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Former Princeton President William G. Bowen

“I think that Birgeneau, in turn, responded intemperately, failing to make proper allowance for the immature, and, yes, arrogant inclinations of some protestors. Aggravated as he had every right to be, I think he should be with us today.”

—— William G. Bowen, former Princeton President and last-minute substitute 2014 Commencement speaker at Haverford College. Bowen’s predecessor as Haverford’s designated graduation VIP, former Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, had withdrawn in response to Haverford student protests that he had been too tough on the Occupy Berkeley protesters.

"Honored graduates: My advice is that when faced with determined opposition, if you know you are right, run away. Thank you."

“Honored graduates: My advice is that when faced with determined opposition, if you know you are right, run away. Thank you.”

Yes, bravo. Many pundits have commented on the epidemic of anti-free expression attitudes on campus, as various groups on campuses across the country have effectively vetoed speakers at Commencements and other forums that threatened to disturb their unshakeable belief in the infallibility of their judgment and analysis of the world before their 22n’t birthday. Yes, students are arrogant, immature, intolerant, easily misled and often ridiculous; we knew that. Thus it is up to the adults to set them straight and teach them some useful life lessons. One such lesson should be to refuse to back down in the face of criticism and opposition just because it will require character, fortitude and courage to do what you have every right to do. Continue reading

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David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) On Being An Ethical Adult

David_Foster_Wallace

The late author David Foster Wallace—who committed suicide in 2008, the victim of depression— gave a wise, inspiring, ethically-astute  commencement address to the graduating class at Kenyon College in 2005. The speech was later published as a book in 2009 under the title “This Is Water.” It was recently made into a vivid video, and has been viral on the internet. You can see it here, at least for a while.

If the video sends anyone to Wallace’s other works, it has done good; if it causes people to ponder what ethics really means, for that is what Wallace was talking about, it had done better. Apparently the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust is in the process of ordering that this video be taken down as copyright infringement, which if his words belong to the Trust, is their right. I wish they wouldn’t; I think letting Wallace’s eloquent life lesson reach as many people as possible, especially young people, would be both ethical and consistent with the values and aspirations of Wallace himself, but it is not my decision to make. I am a little conflicted about sending you to the link, in fact, if the piece was, in effect, stolen. I am applying utilitarian balancing here.

You can also read his speech, presumably legally, here, where it was republished upon his death. The essence of it is in this passage:

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the “rat race” – the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.”

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Pointer: Tim LeVier

Sources: Upworthy, The Guardian

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

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Ethics Quote of the Week: Wellesley High School Teacher David McCullough

“Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them.  And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.  The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”

———-Wellesley High School Teacher David McCullough, in his commencement speech to graduating seniors. McCullough annoyed some parents by basing his speech on the fact that students today are encouraged to believe that they are more “special” than they are, leading to selfishness, narcissism and delusion.

Yes, the parents apparently wanted something more conventionally inspirational, like a speech telling their children how special they are.

The speech, in text and in video, has gone viral on the web; obviously it struck a chord that needed to be struck. I wasn’t going to post about it, I must confess; I think it McCullough’s speech is being over-praised. It is disorganized. It includes false information (50% of all marriages do not end in divorce, but that fake, unsubstantiated statistic  is harder to kill than the Hydra), and I don’t think teachers should be disseminating bad facts. It contradicts itself: “Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in” is dangerous and confounding advice for narcissists who one is trying to convince to think of the needs of others. And throbs with the smug contrariness of someone who set out to be controversial. Continue reading

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