A Proposed Graduation Ceremony Talk for the School of International Training (S.I.T.)
In this green and quiet space, these human-scaled hills and valleys of Vermont, we can feel free with our dreams and plans for a better world.
When we reach our next destination, we may find ourselves in environments that conflict with the maps we have drawn in our minds. They will test our resolve.
How will we decide to travel?
How will we use our talents?
Will we be able to use the listening tools we acquired at S.I.T., to extrapolate the fears and aspirations of those in disagreement, to expand our own outlook? Will we be able to use our newfound knowledge, to ensure that others believe we are truly listening to them? If so, will
we be able to open their minds - and ours - to alternate ways of thinking?
It is easy to be discouraged by a surround of human oblivions; by so many dissonants who will not listen to each other.
It is also easy to be arrogant; to extoll our self-appointed virtues. We, the priviledged, the intellectual elite, often assuage our own fears of being ineffective against litanies of destruction, by demeaning those less priviledged, or those with whom we disagree.
There is a mirrored image somewhere within these thoughts.
We celebrate our joy today, and acknowledge pride in our accomplishments. Nurtured by the brilliance of the S.I.T. experience, we intend to use all our knowledge, all our intelligence, all our innate love for humankind to design our road.
In rock climbing, it is the sheath of the rope which protects its core. It is the strength of the core which protects us when we fall. The commonality of our core is our humanity. Weave a strong sheath and protect it. Deviate from your route as you need to, in order to complete the climb safely.
Do not relinquish your dreams to cynicism when you feel despondent; when you wonder how those sweet little babies became those awful people doing damage to the world. Permit yourself to stay true to your gifts and to share them with the world.
For what will be our legacy?
As an artist, I am often asked what brought me here. I needed to enlarge my life as a communicative artist, and as a journalist. Art empowers the self and others. Communication through language in art occurs in every form of art: visual, music, movement, poetry, and prose.
Though I am a MAT graduate, my role as student provocateur could apply to any rumination about shared aspirations - and frustrations - with the world at large!
Some particulars to start:
And now, some opinionated generalizations. Some of the references are fictitious. I have not indicated which, and I hope that when you find them, you will think them humorous enough.
Categorization is anathema to a giving life. Lists of to dos and to not dos add up to nothing but lists. Our addiction to analysis - our loss of irony and humor - our rigidity in the face of disagreement - have squelched the inner fire that makes us fully human. They are blanketing us with the heat of inertia. They have led to abdication of responsibility to the self and to society.
The British philosopher of language, H.P. Grice, famous for his maxims describing types of attempts at communication, was cowed by his more widely known teacher, Yoda, who responded, There is no try. There is only do or not do.
We were born into a world at war. We live in a perpetual state of conflict with the roots of evil, the flowers of ignorance, the seeds of injustice. It is we, here today, who have the power to inflame change. Through our life’s design, now profoundly affected by our S.I.T. experience, we pursue our obligation to help others realize and acknowledge their inner power, and to use it to change the world.
I quote Einstein (with pronouns altered):
Back to Menk: Categorization of people is separative. We humans naturally differ from one another, but these differences are not measurements of our worth, but celebrations of our charm. We have manufactured and imposed divisions, such as constructs of race and class. This talk is not about historical and psychological reasons for delineating confines, but I do propose that we think about our man-made divisiveness as analytically as we can.
All citizens of the USA - of which I am one - are formed by our foundational, and continuous, history of endemic racism. It is our responsibility to all humanity that we recognize this, and that we make the dissolution of its affect part of our legacy.
Language is a social contract. It enables cultural connections. Until I came to S.I.T., I held knowledge of culture to be an advantage of language, not a requirement for comprehensible discourse. If there is language disconnect between cultures, there can be no fully developed relationships among peoples. Idioms can illustrate cultural disconnects. If I say to someone who knows nothing about Greek mythology, It’s his Achilles heel, I will be wasting my time. When I came to S.I.T., I was flying by the seat of my pants! or, in plain English, I had almost no idea what
I was doing!
Fluency in language enlarges our spirit and empowers us. It broadens our understanding of the present, and it inspires us to boldness and inventiveness in our thinking, and in our expression. Through comprehensible communication; through revelatory imagery; though overt, empathic, emotional connection, we can use the virtual and tangible propoganda that are now performing as tools of war, to be transports to understanding, acceptance, and ultimately to some kind of world civility and respect.
Acceptance and toleration
Acceptance is not neutrality. It requires introspection, and thoughtful reflection. It is an incorporation into oneself.
Toleration implies judgement. If you tolerate, you allow - you give permission. It creates a separation between the self and the other.
If I allow you to sit next to me while I have a cup of coffee, I tolerate your presence.
If I invite you to have coffee with me I accept that I will pay for it!
There is a place here at S.I.T., called the Nook for Rhyme Crooks. It is a place where we come together in the evening to share our literary and musical talents. It is a place where we are one in heart and mind. It knits us together in our shared personae. It lifts us up on our roads to a better world.
If you read the following example aloud, remember to breathe.