Congratulations Fall Class of 2020 from Dean Kathy Hibbert
To the graduating class of October 2020, congratulations.
This message is to you, our students, on a day when we should be able to be together. When I should be able to look out and see your smiling faces as we celebrate the years of effort, sacrifice and hard work you have put into your graduate studies. I long to hood students I have spent anywhere from two to five or more years with, on this day – your day – to say ‘Good for you! You did it!’
I thought long and hard about how to convey our deep sense of pride in what you have accomplished, and to share some thoughts that would lift you up, and help you think about how the completion of a graduate degree is really something quite wonderful.
I turned to philosopher, social activist and teacher Maxine Greene’s book, Releasing the Imagination. Maxine wrote passionately about the social conditions needed to shape learning and spark imagination and her work was always grounded in concepts of freedom and humanity. Decades ago she called upon us to be aware of the both the internal and the external landscapes that influence schools: in particular, inequity, complacency and exclusion.
Our classrooms ought to be nurturing and thoughtful and just all at once: they ought to pulsate with multiple conceptions of what it is to be human and alive. They out to resound with the voices of articulate young people in dialogues always incomplete because there is always more be to discovered and more to be said. We want our students to achieve friendship as each one stirs to wide-awakeness, to imaginative action, and to renewed consciousness of possibility.
The notion of ‘wide-awakeness’ is a concept that Greene drew on from phenomenologist Alfred Schutz and poet Henry David Thoreau. It is only when we are ‘wide-awake’ that we can ask meaningful questions that may lead to meaningful change.
We are in such disorienting and disruptive times. But I would argue that it is precisely now that we need to ask these important questions of the role education can play in our world. As new graduates, you have an important role to play in shaping our future.
Prompted by my re-reading of Greene, I also re-read Albert Camus’ The Plague – something I have not looked at since 1978. While some view it as an allegory for surviving fascism or rejecting truth, the lessons were salient:
There are consequences for the way that we act in the world; human suffering can move us to re-think notions of competence, expertise and morality. Our individual suffering gives way to a recognition that we are suffering collectively, and as such we have a social responsibility to act.
The book suggests that when the plague ends, we are all to willing to go back to life as we knew it, and forget the lessons learned. Prior to the plague, Camus’ characters were living routine lives, largely focused on doing business; mechanistic and materialistic lives.
The characters’ failure to deal with the plague is a failure of imagination and our ability to truly appreciate the moment.
I will leave you today with a piece written by Canadian poet Lee Maracle:
Hope lives inside the artist: instrument, brush, voice, pen sculpture, body.
Hope breathes life inside those shadowy crevices where doubt waits to feast on our weakened and dimmed inner light.
Hope gives us strength to trudge through the muck and the mire to find solid ground.
Hope is the home of curiosity, imagination, intelligence and compassion. Artists are an empathic link between hope and the outside world.
Hope frees, hope relieves: hope moves us.
Artists move people from inspiration to action and direct hope toward a new reality that can be shared by everyone. In the end.