I graduated on Friday with my M.A. in English Literature. I did this degree full time over the last two years as I worked full time. I graduated with a 4.0, which was an act of humongous will and stubbornness.
I am very proud of my degree. I wrote my thesis on the witch Erichtho and passed my defense with distinction. Hopefully in the future I can continue the little scholarship on this very interesting Greek witch and contribute to the witchcraft discourse in an academic way.
At graduation, I was confronted with an invocation by a Catholic priest who ignored every non Christian (well really, every non Catholic) in the room. It was uncomfortable. I thought it was in poor taste from a university that celebrates diversity.
Our speakers were decent enough, they had some interesting things to say, but nothing that truly moved and inspired me.
Today, Neil Gaiman posted a link to Ian McEwan’s commencement address to Dickenson College. This is the speech I wish I had heard. I think the things he talks about are so important in today’s world and in today’s America.
If you want to read through it, Time posted the entire speech here.
McEwan says at the end:
I hope you’ll use your fine liberal education to preserve for future generations the beautiful and precious but also awkward, sometimes inconvenient and even offensive culture of freedom of expression we have. Take with you these celebrated words of George Washington: “If the freedom of speech is taken away then, dumb and silent, we may be led like sheep to the slaughter.”
We may be certain that Dickinson has not prepared you to be sheep.
Remember that your words have power. At the end of the day, intention and will is at the heart of every magical working and when you blindly parrot the speech of others, without truly investigating or thinking about what is being said, you help their words take action and form in the world around us. Our speech has consequences, sometimes in ways that we aren’t even aware of. Sticks and stones as the old childhood rhyme goes, but we should all know better.