Monday, May 22, 2006

Robert Neralich, keynote speaker, Fayetteville High Commencement


Robert Neralich, keynote speaker, Fayetteville High Commencement
Originally uploaded by tsweden.

5-20-06. Note that Principal Willison is looking at his watch and Superintendent New looks unhappy. Perhaps it was when Neralich said to the students, "Do not attempt to respond to the critical council of obedient servants, good soldiers, corporate quantifiers and dress-for-success bureaucrats who will urge you to extinguish the candle of your creative potential."



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1 comment:

Susana Rosetta said...

Text of the speech:

GRADUATION ADDRESS 2006



DEAR CLASS OF 2006:

AS MY OWN STUDENTS HAVE HEARD ME SAY ON MANY OCCASIONS, THERE IS AN INSTRUCTIVE ADAGE WIDELY KNOWN AND FREQUENTLY QUOTED THROUGHOUT ASIA: “A FISH IS THE LAST BEING TO DISCOVER WATER.” WE ALL TEND TO SWIM AT LEAST SOMEWHAT UNCONSCIOUSLY IN AN OCEAN OF CONVENTIONAL THINKINGS, DOINGS, AND BELIEVINGS THAT WE RARELY QUESTION, MAKING THE UNCRITICAL ASSUMPTION THAT THESE CUSTOMARY WAYS OF THINKING, DOING, AND BELIEVING THAT WE HAVE INHERITED FROM OUR PREDECESSORS ARE THE ONLY POSSIBLE ONES, OR, AT LEAST, THAT THEY ARE THE BEST ONES. IT IS, OF COURSE, A MAJOR GOAL OF THE ON-GOING PROCESS OF SELF-EDUCATION TO DISABUSE OURSELVES OF THESE FOOOLISH NOTIONS AND TO DISOVER THAT THE WATER IN WHICH WE SWIM ALWAYS IN SOME MEASURE DISTORTS AND LIMITS OUR PERCEPTION OF WHAT CONSTITUES BOTH REALITY AND TRUTH.



THE RECOGNITION THAT MANY OF OUR CHERISHED CULTURAL NORMS ARE LIKE AN IMPERFECT LENS THROUGH WHICH WE VIEW THE WORLD CAN BE A DECIDEDLY DISTURBING EXPERIENCE, SINCE THIS OBJECTIVITY IS OFTEN ACCOMPANIED BY THE UNCOMFORTABLE REALIZATION THAT SOCIETIES AND INDIVIDUALS FREQUENTLY BEHAVE IN WAYS THAT ARE AT ODDS WITH THEIR PROFESSED PRINCIPLES. I KNOW THAT THIS IS A COMMONPLACE OBSERVATION, BUT ON THIS DAY WHEN YOU ARE ABOUT TO GRADUATE, WHEN, IN THE WORD’S ROOT MEANING, YOU ARE GOING TO “STEP OUT” INTO THE WORLD, I WANT TO ENCOURAGE YOU TO PURSUE THIS TWO-FOLD TASK OF EXAMINING THE WATER IN WHICH WE SWIM AND SEEKING TO RESOLVE ANY OF THE CONTRADICTIONS THAT YOU THEREBY DISCOVER IN YOURSELF AND YOUR CULTURE. PURSUING THIS SORT OF EXAMINATION ALWAYS RESULTS IN SOME INTERESTING QUESTIONS, BUT BEFORE I BURDEN YOU WITH A FEW OF THEM, I WILL TELL YOU WHY I HAVE CHOSEN THIS THEME FOR TODAY’S ADDRESS. .



MANY OF YOU ARE AWARE THAT A PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS WAS RECENTLY DISMISSED FROM HIS TEACHING POST, AND I WAS APPALLED BY HIS STATEMENT THAT ONE REASON FOR HIS FIRING WAS THAT HIS ADMINISTRATIVE SUPERIORS DID NOT APPROVE OF HIS UNORTHODOX TEACHING METHODS AND PREFERRED FACULTY MEMBERS WHO WERE NOT CONTROVERSIAL. AS A TEACHER, I AM PROFOUNDLY DISTRESSED THAT THE TERM CONTROVERSIAL CAN BE RENDERED SO READILY IN A NEGATIVE SENSE. I GRANT THAT THE WORD HAS MANY SHADES OF IMPLICATION, BUT, AFTER ALL, IT ESSENTIALLY MEANS SOMETHING LIKE “AN OPPOSING VIEW,” AND THERE CAN BE NO SORT OF MUSIC IN THIS WORLD WITHOUT SUCH CREATIVE TENSION. FURTHER, WHEN I THINK ABOUT CONTROVERSIAL PEOPLE, THE NAMES THAT OCCUR TO ME CONSTITUTE A LIST OF MANY OF HUMANITY’S GREATEST BENEFACTORS. WERE NOT BUDDHA, LAO-TZU, SOCRATES, CONFUCIUS, JESUS, GANDHI, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, HENRY DAVID THOREAU, AND DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. CONTROVERSIAL? DID NOT THESE PEOPLE ASK THEIR CONTEMPORARIES TO EXAMINE THE WATER THEY WERE SWIMMING IN? DID THEY NOT POINT OUT SOME OF THE CONTRADICTIONS WITHIN THEIR RESPECTIVE CULTURES? TO PUT IT IN A DIFFERENT WAY, WHEN DID BEING CONVENTIONAL BECOME A VIRTUE, PARTICULARLY IN EDUCATION?



AND SO, MY YOUNG FRIENDS, IN THE SPIRIT OF HEALTHY CONTROVERSY, I WILL OFFER YOU A FEW QUESTIONS FOR YOUR INTELLIGENT CONSIDERATION AND THEREBY INVITE YOU ON THIS AUSPICIOUS OCCASION TO BEGIN WHAT I HOPE WILL BE A LIFELONG EXPLORATION OF OUR COLLECTIVE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THE WAY THINGS ARE. THE QUESTIONS I HAVE SELECTED ARE JUST A FEW AMONG WHAT SEEMS LIKE AN ALMOST ENDLESS NUMBER, BUT SINCE WE ADULTS ARE NOT DOING ESPECIALLY WELL IN ANSWERING THEM, I HOPE THAT IN COMING YEARS YOU CAN PROVIDE US WITH SOME FRESH PERSPECTIVES ON THEIR POSSIBLE RESOLUTION. .



IMMIGRATION IS CURRENTLY A DIVISIVE ISSUE IN AMERICA, ESPECIALLY AS IT RELATES TO THOSE WHOM WE UNCHARITABLY CALL ILLEGAL ALIENS. BUT IF WE WANT PEOPLE TO REGISTER LEGALLY AS FOREIGN RESIDENTS IN OUR COUNTRY, WHY DO WE MAKE IT SO DIFFICULT TO OBTAIN A GREEN CARD? FURTHER, MANY AMERICANS INSIST THAT THESE IMMIGRANTS MUST LEARN ENGLISH, AND I AM NOT SUGGESTING THAT THIS IS A BAD IDEA. BUT SINCE WE ARE, AFTER ALL, A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS, I OFTEN WONDER HOW MANY OF THESE LINGUISTIC NATIONALISTS, BEHAVING IN ACCORDANCE WITH THEIR OWN LOGIC, HAVE LEARNED TO SPEAK A NATIVE AMERICAN LANGUAGE. I’M FAIRLY CERTAIN THAT HISTORY IN THIS LAND DID NOT BEGIN WITH THE ARRIVAL OF MY IMMIGRANT GROUP. DID IT BEGIN WITH THE ARRIVAL OF YOURS? FINALLY, MANY PEOPLE CLAIM THAT AMERICA IS A CHRISTIAN NATION, BUT IF THAT IS SO, THEN WHY ARE THESE PURPORTED CHRISTIANS NOT MORE CONCERNED WITH BEING THE KEEPERS OF THEIR IMMIGRANT BROTHERS IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE UNEQUIVOCAL TEACHING OF JESUS IN THE GOSPELS? CAN I THEREFORE ASSUME THAT ANYONE WHO WANTS TO BUILD A WALL BETWEEN MEXICO AND THE UNITED STATES CANNOT BY DEFINITION BE A CHRISTIAN?



AMERICANS OFTEN PROFESS TO BE DEEPLY CONCERNED WITH JUSTICE, BUT IF THIS IS SO, THEN WHY DO WE FIND IT SO EASY TO IGNORE HUMAN RIGHTS WHEN IT IS TO OUR ECONOMIC ADVANTAGE TO DO SO? IF THE HAIR DRYER THAT I PURCHASE SO INEXPENSIVELY AT A LOCAL MAXI-MART STORE WAS MADE BY WHAT AMOUNTS TO SLAVE LABOR – OR IF MY ATHLETIC SHOES WERE PRODUCED BY WOMEN AND CHILDREN WORKING FOR EXCEEDINGLY MEAGRE WAGES, ARE MY PURCHASES ETHICALLY DEFENSIBLE? OR HAS JUSTICE SOMEHOW CEASED TO INCLUDE ECONOMIC JUSTICE?



AMERICANS ARE JUSTIFIABLY CONCERNED WITH RAMPANT DRUG AND ALCOHOL ABUSE IN OUR COUNTRY. WE HAVE, IN FACT, OFFICIALLY DECLARED A WAR ON DRUGS, THOUGH WE ARE NOT AT ALL AGREED UPON THE MOST EFFECTIVE MEANS BY WHICH TO CONDUCT IT. HOWEVER, MAYBE WE ARE ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION. INSTEAD OF DEBATING WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE PROBLEM OF DRUG AND ALCOLHOL ABUSE, PERHAPS WE SHOULD INSTEAD INVESTIGATE WHY SO MANY AMERICANS, INCLUDING AND ESPECIALLY YOUNG AMERICANS, CONSUME DRUGS AND ALCOHOL WITH SUCH RECKLESS ABANDON. IS LIFE IN OUR CONSUMER REPUBLIC SO DREARY, SO UTTERLY DEVOID OF MEANINGFUL PURPOSE THAT FOR MANY OF US EVEN THE MOST SELF-DESTRUCTIVE ACTIVITIES ARE PREFERABLE TO THE TEDIUM OF EVERYDAY EXISTENCE? DO WE HESITATE TO PURSUE THIS LINE OF POTENTIALLY FRUITFUL REASONING BECAUSE WE FEAR THE CONCLUSIONS TO WHICH IT MIGHT LEAD?



WE ARE ALL CONCERNED WITH THE RISING COST OF OIL, AND PEOPLE HAVE OFFERED MANY INGENIOUS SOLUTIONS TO THIS PROBLEM. BUT AGAIN, AS IN THE CASE OF DRUGS AND ALCOHOL, I SUGGEST THAT PERHAPS WE ARE SEEKING ANSWERS TO THE WRONG QUESTION. DESPITE MUCH PROPAGANDA TO THE CONTRARY, THERE IS LITTLE LIKELIHOOD OF FINDING A PLAUSIBLE SUBSTITUTE FOR THE WORLD’S DIMINISHING OIL RESERVES. IT SEEMS CLEAR THAT THE ONLY VITAL QUESTION IS WHETHER OR NOT AMERICANS HAVE THE PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL RESOLVE TO FACE UNPLEASANT FACTS AND AMEND OUR EXTRAVAGANTLY WASTEFUL LIFESTYLE. NOTICE THAT FEW POLITICIANS HAVE THE REQUISITE COURAGE TO BROADCAST THIS VIEW, PRESUMABLY FOR FEAR OF BEING VOTED OUT OF OFFICE, AND THIS CIRCUMSTANCE DOES NOT REFLECT FAVORABLY ON OUR NATIONAL CAPACITY FOR EITHER SELF-DISCIPLINE OR TRUTH. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THIS PROBLEM, MY YOUNG FRIENDS?



EDUCATORS TODAY ARE PREOCCUPIED WITH LITERACY, AS IF SCHOOLS CAN DO MUCH ABOUT WHAT IS ESSENTIALLY A NATIONAL CATASTROPHE. DON’T MISTAKE ME; MY STUDENTS CAN TELL YOU THAT I AM AN AVID PARTISAN FOR LITERACY, BUT AMERICANS CURRENTLY READ JUST ONE BOOK PER YEAR. ONE BOOK! HOW CAN SCHOOLS REDRESS SUCH A PERVASIVE CULTURAL DEFICIENCY? ON THE OTHER HAND, AMERICANS WATCH MORE THAN FOUR HOURS OF TELEVSION EACH EVENING. SADLY, SURVEYS DEMONSTRATE THAT AMERICANS NOW KNOW MORE ABOUT CHARACTERS ON TELEVISION PROGRAMS THAN THEY DO ABOUT THEIR OWN NEIGHBORS. IS IT THEN SURPRISING THAT A RECENT POLL REVEALED THAT NEARLY HALF OF ALL AMERICANS AGED 18 – 24 CANNOT LOCATE MISSISSIPPI ON A MAP OR THAT ALMOST EIGHTY PERCENT OF THIS SAME GROUP COULD NOT FIND ISRAEL? HOW, THEN, CAN WE PRETEND TO BE OUTRAGED WHEN WE FIND THAT THE PEOPLE OF OTHER, MORE LITERATE NATIONS FREQUENTLY REGARD US AS IGNORANT, SELF-ABSORBED BUFFOONS WITH TOO MUCH MONEY FOR OUR OWN GOOD. AND SO, MY DEAR STUDENTS, WHAT BOOKS DO YOU INTEND TO READ THIS SUMMER? OR WILL YOU BE TOO BUSY SHOPPING FOR THE PRODUCTS YOU SAW ADVERTISED ON TELEVISION, OR PLAYING VIDEO GAMES, OR LISTENING TO MUSIC ON YOUR IPODS, OR WASTING TIME ON YOUR COMPUTERS AND CELL-PHONES TO BE BOTHERED WITH THE TASK OF EDUCATING YOURSELF AND COMPLICATING YOUR CHARACTER BY READING CHALLENGING WORKS OF FICTION AND NON-FICTION?



FINALLY, I MUST ASK YOU TO TELL ME AT WHAT POINT IN OUR NATIONAL HISTORY DID THE ECONOMY BECOME THE CONTEXT FOR OUR SOCIAL LIVES INSTEAD OF MERELY ONE EXPRESSION OF THEM. AFTER ALL, THE WORD ECONOMY MEANS THE LAWS THAT GOVERN A HOUSEHOLD – AND WHILE MONEY IS CERTAINLY ONE PART OF HOUSEHOLD LIFE – IT SURELY ISN’T THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE - IS IT? WHEN DID HAVING USURP BEING AS THE MEASURE OF OUR HUMANITY? EVEN EDUCATION HAS BEEN COMPROMISED BY MATERIALISTIC IMPERATIVES. WE NOW RELENTLESSLY QUANTIFY STUDENTS, SINCE IMPROVED TEST SCORES INCREASE THE CASH FLOW INTO SCHOOL DISTRICTS. FURTHER, WE HAVE BEGUN ASKING STUDENTS TO DECLARE A CAREER TRACK IN JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL. IS VOCATIONAL PREPARATION REALLY THE MOST IMPORTANT MISSION FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS? OR, FOLLOWING THE LEAD OF THOMAS JEFFERSON, SHOULD TEACHERS INSTEAD STRIVE TO PRODUCE CITIZENS WHO ARE KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT MANY THINGS AND SKEPTICAL OF ALL RECEIVED OPINION? WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS MATTER, MY YOUTHFUL AUDIENCE ABOUT TO ENTER THE WORKADAY WORLD?



I BURDEN YOU WITH THESE QUESTIONS, MY YOUNG FRIENDS, BECAUSE I HAVE EVERY CONFIDENCE IN YOUR ABILITY TO ENGAGE THEM IN CRITICALLY MEANINGFUL WAYS. I THANK YOU FOR HONORING ME WITH THE INVITATION TO ADDRESS YOU - AND PESTER YOU - ONE LAST TIME, AND ON BEHALF OF EVERYONE PRESENT HERE TODAY, I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT OUR PRIDE IN AND AFFECTION FOR YOU ARE BOUNDLESS, AND THAT IN OUR OPINION YOU ARE A TREASURE STILL ONLY DIMLY AWARE OF ITS INFINITE WORTH.



AND NOW, CLASS OF 2006, IT IS TIME FOR YOU TO STEP OUT. PLEASE LEAVE THIS BUILDING SECURE IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT THERE ARE NO LIMITS TO YOUR IMAGINATIVE HORIZONS. I HOPE THAT YOU PRESS BRAVELY ONWARD THROUGH LIFE’S INEVITABLE TRIALS, AND THAT YOU SHARE YOUR HARD-WON WISDOM WITH AN EVER-NEEDFUL WORLD.



DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED IN YOUR SOJOURN THROUGH LIFE BY THE CHORUS OF CONVENTIONAL TWITS WHO TELL YOU THAT THE WATER WE SWIM IN IS JUST FINE THE WAY IT IS, DO NOT ATTEND TO THE SMARMY AND HYPOCRITICAL COUNSEL OF OBEDIENT SERVANTS, GOOD SOLDIERS, CORPORATE QUANTIFIERS, AND DRESS-FOR-SUCCESS BUREAUCRATS WHO WILL URGE YOU TO EXTINGUISH THE CANDLE OF YOUR CREATIVE POTENTIAL SO THAT YOU CAN JOIN THEM IN PRAISING THE DARKNESS THAT THEY CALL “REAL LIFE.” AND ABOVE ALL, MY DEAR YOUNG FRIENDS, IT IS THE ARDENT HOPE OF THIS OLD TEACHER, THAT SOMEWHERE ALONG YOUR PATH THROUGH THIS AWFUL AND WONDERFUL WORLD YOU SUDDENLY DISCOVER TO YOUR GREAT DELIGHT THAT IN THE BEST MEANING OF THE TERM YOU HAVE SOMEHOW MANAGED TO BECOME – CONTROVERSIAL.





ROBERT NERALICH

20 MAY 2006

BUD WALTON ARENA

FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS