Volume 26, Number 3:  December 2007

From the Chair  |  In Print  |  Panels & Presentations  |  Awards & Appointments  |  Miscellany  |  From the Editor

The Common Reader

Address to the Graduates, December 14, 2007
by Ben Worthington

benGraduates, Faculty, Staff, Family, and Friends: Good Morning. 

The minor transcendentalist Aaron Thearp was once quoted as saying "Any speech that begins with a quotation from some supposedly great man typically isn't worth the breath with which it's spoken."

Realizing the truth in this, I have decided get out of the way any pretense that what I have to say might be worth anything to you.  Graduation is a time for sentimentality and silly wardrobe, and though some of the faculty exceed me in these, I have tried to oblige on both accounts.  When deciding what should be said here, a good friend and fellow graduate told me that all the words I needed could be found in most dictionaries, all I had to do was figure out their order.  Regretfully, we have no place today for talk of Aardvarks, and so I have decided rather to adopt a different approach.

This December marks the end of my twentieth year as a student in North Carolina's public education system.  Twenty years, and this is the first opportunity that I've had to stand before anybody and do this sort of thing.  I can assume that my next opportunity most likely will come at my retirement, and thoughts of this sort have led me to think on a rather grand scale when preparing these remarks, and surely a graduation should be concerned with lofty ideas, and grand scales.

faculty1As I mentioned before, I have spent a great deal of my life in North Carolina, specifically this Eastern portion of North Carolina.  It has been both parent and friend to me, and I am proud to call myself a native of this place.  But I recognize that despite its countless admirable qualities, it is a place that we should continuously challenge as we should challenge ourselves: our past, present, and our intentions for the future.  The persons sitting patiently behind me represent for us a great deal of that challenging force, and because of their decisions to come here, to teach and work and live, they have held this place more accountable, have called us to account for ourselves, and we are better for it.  Faculty, we thank you for your many pains.

Mentioning the faculty, I cannot overlook staff; though professors may direct the path of the wheel, they are not always the force that drives it round.  While I am grateful to the entire department staff for their guidance, I must specifically mention Ms. Ketura Parker.  Ms. Parker, thank you so very much.  I cannot imagine this place without you.  If ever in your subsequent endeavors you have need of a loyal speechwriter, I pray you would think of me.

I have a few particular people that deserve our recognition; on this day that we are honored we would do well to honor them.  To our parents and our extended families -- and note therein I include both family by blood and those friends who have become as such by their good company -- I say, wholeheartedly, thanks.  You are of us, we are of you, and much of what we are and are to become we owe to your natures and to your nurture.  Because of this filial bond we must congratulate you even as we do ourselves.

graduation1Lastly, I would like to congratulate our graduates.  To those of you who are seeking a career in English studies, you have taken on a great and noble task.  In a day and age in which we are driven by various forces to enter into fields of science and technology, we stand apart.  Many of us have friends that are graduating this week to later engage all manner of occupation.  Scientists will engage biological and physical sciences.  Others will engage history and the social sciences.  Many graduates are entering into the medical field, and still more aspire to be captains of industry.  But we should not feel that our purpose is any way frivolous, for as our friends concern themselves with the study and guidance of technologies, we concern ourselves with the study and guidance of the conscience of mankind.

Many of us intend to teach, and many of that group will do so in the public schools: to those I can only say, "God bless you."  You are the tip of the spear, you fight the good fight, and for that you deserve to be recognized.  Many more of us will write, and engage our art firsthand.  That, too, is a brave endeavor, and I am proud to be in your company.  To those of you who will take your degree and parlay this into a career elsewhere -- industry perhaps, law, medicine even, or a thousand other things that an education in English Studies can afford you -- to you I say it was good to have you here, if but for a while, and I ask that as you pursue these other things you speak well of us.

Again, I thank the University, our families, and our friends on this day that we have set aside to celebrate ourselves.   To the fall class of 2007, nice work.  Take the rest of the week off.

Thank you.

                                                              -- Ben Worthington
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