President Nugent's Remarks at Commencement 2005
Good morning! I want to welcome all of you to this 177th Commencement of Kenyon College. We especially welcome those of you (family members and friends of today's graduates) who have traveled long distances to be with us for this occasion. We recognize that the students who graduate today have also traveled a long distance, to arrive at this point in their education and in their lives.
As we come to the culmination of their College years for the Class of 2005, I imagine that these four years may seem--to students, to parents, and perhaps even to some faculty and administrators--to have lasted for an eternity... and for an instant.
For your Class, especially, this has been a four years like no other. On August 23, 2001, you processed down Middle Path for Opening Convocation-- a procession which intentionally prefigures this Commencement ceremony. But only a few weeks later, on September 11 of 2001, your lives--and all of our lives--were altered, in ways that may be fully understood only years from now. Thus, as you have changed during these College years, our world has also been changing--perhaps more dramatically than is true for most College generations.
It is my profound hope that your years at Kenyon have led to intellectual growth, maturity, and judgment... Qualities of character and humane-ness that I fear are often difficult to discern today in the larger world. Around us in society, during these past four years, we have seen growing mistrust, ethnic tension, conflict, and a breakdown of rational discourse.
I wish that I could say our community here at Kenyon--idyllic as it often seems--has been entirely free of these problems. But we all know that, unfortunately, that is not true. Even in recent weeks, we have seen unfortunate episodes of ethnic or religious stereotyping, incivility, and breakdowns in communication. I mention this not in any way to dampen or diminish our spirit of celebration here today, but rather to re-dedicate us to the nobler values which I believe each one of us associates with Kenyon.
Perhaps I am enough of a Platonist to believe that there is an Ideal Kenyon, a "Kenyon of the mind," if you will, that those of us who have come to love this place share. While this hill may not be a paradise, free from all fault, it is indeed a beautiful hill... And I believe that, from it, you have been given a special vantage point to cast your eye on a landscape of high ideals and goals that are worth striving for.
As you seek those goals, one thing that I hope that you will take with you from this place is an insatiable hunger for truth--one which will lead you to questioning and to argument but not to animosity or denigration.
Earlier this year, Professor Fred Baumann delivered a presidential lecture entitled, "How Citizens Talk: Rhetoric and Deliberation." As he noted in that talk: "...a serious opponent who makes deliberative arguments...needs to be treated not just with respect, but honored for her seriousness." In such serious deliberation, Professor Baumann reminded us, "the attack always should be against the argument; not against the person."
THAT kind of dedication to argument, indeed to "the Quest for Justice," is the true Kenyon, the reason why you came to this place and...I hope... the "inner Kenyon" you will take with you as you leave.