The Past and the Future (2010 Student Graduation Talks)
At Gutenberg’s 2010 commencement ceremony on June 11, two students spoke: Noah Crabtree and Jacquelyn Stollar. Their topic was “The Past and the Future”
The Past by Noah Crabtree
“As it is said in our age one has ‘the positive’ more or less in the way a polytheist would make light of monotheism’s negativity, because polytheism, of course, has many gods, the monotheist but one. The philosophers have many ideas—all valid up to a point. Socrates has but one, which is absolute.”
My class has asked me to speak about the past—the past, of course, as distinguished from the present, as that which has come into existence. This topic is, I am sure, inexhaustible, and so for your sake as well as mine, I will not try to exhaust it. Rather, to reflect the character of our time here at Gutenberg, I will attempt to speak with both brevity and profundity—as well as a good deal of confusion.
“Can virtue be taught?” This was the question which occupied the Greeks, the question which Socrates found fit to devote his life to—not hurrying to arrive prematurely at an end, but keeping the question alive and resurrecting her to a life anew in everyone with whom he dialogued.
To the present age she is a ghost who haunts our hallways. A memory. A faded vestige of an age, long past. For the better part of the day, she sits quietly in the attic and watches from her window there the constant, busy flurry of the system builders—the ongoing expansion and remodeling of the critical-scholarly-scientific fortress of the modern times.
Yet in the evening, as we lay in bed and allow our thoughts to wander from our work, we sometimes see her standing in the corners of our rooms. And if we do not hide our face in fear but look, we see in her the vivid pallor of one not dead but just ignored.
“Can virtue be taught?” It is a question, I believe, which must haunt every scientific age, every age which bows its knee before the idols of fact and scholarship. For Socrates was right to say that virtue is, indeed, a knowledge—but a knowledge nonetheless which cannot be given in a textbook. Virtue is a knowledge which NO human teacher can give; it must arise from the learner himself—that is, from the learner’s own existence. Socrates understood this, and so he also understood his own role properly as a midwife. He spent his life in service of the god to aid people in their own personal task of becoming the truth. This task is the task of every individual, and this has been our task at Gutenberg.
In the last four years, we have accomplished something extraordinary—we have learned to live, to bare our faces before God with honesty and humility. Yes, we have learned to relate to each other, to relate to our tutors, to relate to the authors whose works we read. But in a purer sense, we have learned to relate ourselves as existing individuals to a world—and to God.
In this way, our past is distinct from the past of our contemporaries. Our four years at Gutenberg has meant an education toto genera different from an education as is now most commonly understood. We have, each and every one of us, learned a truth, one not given us but borne out of ourselves—forged within ourselves—a truth which is our own. Our history at Gutenberg has signified the coming-into-existence in all of us of the eternal, which, as the eternal, is not properly historical but transcends the historical and rises above it, for it is the Absolute. Our education at Gutenberg was and remains a constant upward striving toward the responsibility of our existence as individuals before God. And Gutenberg was not so poor a midwife along this path.
To a certain extent, each of us has had to walk alone. I have seen, over the past four years, each and every one of my classmates encounter trials and hardships unique to them, out of which I have seen them grow into mature human beings. But though we have, in a certain sense, each walked our own paths, in a much more profound sense, we were and remain deeply united in a common project—in a common destination. And I stand here now to express my gratitude to you all, to my class as well as to the tutors who have aided us and guided us and walked beside us. I am honored and privileged to have shared this project with such a group of honest, sincere, and diligent students of life. My admiration and respect for you cannot be measured.
The Future by Jacquelyn Stollar
I have been asked to speak about the future. This is a very difficult task at any time, but especially right now. I have been so focused on getting those final synopses in and the correct paper for my thesis to be printed on that I am not even sure what I am doing tomorrow.
I do know that my class is a group of intelligent, beautiful, talented people. I am sure that no matter what we decide to do with the rest of our lives our experience at Gutenberg will continue to affect us—whether we become mothers, fathers, lawyers, go on to grad school, start a coffee shop, or stay barristas for the rest of our lives.
We have many options before us. With all that we have studied these last four years, we could become many different things. We could be scientists, mathematicians, historians, philosophers, even artists.
Wouldn’t any science department love to have a student who does not believe in the scientific method, thinks Ptolemy had legitimate arguments, and who believes that any amount of statistics cannot achieve truth? A student who thinks that theories are merely made by men who rig the “facts” that they have collected in manufactured experiments? Hmm. So maybe science is out of the question.
Math, however… Who wouldn’t want a math student who believes that numbers are essentially a constructed phenomena that have no real bearing on reality and who believes that numbers cannot be used to reach any real knowledge? OK, maybe not math.
What about philosophy? We can think clearly, articulate well, write down well-thought-out arguments—all of which skills are not valued today in philosophy departments around the world.
Hmm. Maybe we’ll find our calling in art. I guess first we’d need to know what art is. Maybe we’ll have to dust off those papers from freshman year when we defined art. I don’t remember what I said.
But, in all seriousness, rather than narrowing our interests, which were quite varied before we started school, Gutenberg has broadened them. I didn’t know before I came to Gutenberg how much nicer it is to not know that you don’t know what you don’t know.
For our immediate plans: I know that all of us are looking forward to a chance to breath. I know all of us are going to take time to figure out what we want to do with our lives. We will be conscientious with these choices. We will take our time and hopefully use the wisdom we have gleaned through four years of intense study and personal growth.
I know every member of my class would agree with me when I say that I have never been more irritated, frustrated, and bothered by any group of people more than I have by my classmates. I also know that I have never been more honored and grateful for a group of people. I have learned so much from my classmates, have received so much grace, and have grown so much through my time with them. I am proud to call myself a part of the Gutenberg College class of 2010. I am proud to call Molly, Jessinah, Jeannie, Tommy, Karl, Brian, Noah, Erin, and Chelsea my classmates.
I know that whatever we decide to do, these four years will be looked back on as a very influential time in our lives. I am confident that our appreciation for each other and the school will only continue to grow.
I am glad to be done; I am glad to be graduating; but the feelings are mixed. My own experience with Gutenberg has been complicated. It has not been a perfect relationship, and while I am grateful for the good times, the hard times have cast a shadow on my experience here. I know I still have a lot to work through, but I also feel confident that I will continue to grow as I process the past and that my time here has been well worth staying for.
The future is an unknown for all of us. But whatever we decide to do with our lives, our time at Gutenberg will have been worth it. Every paper, every all-night study session, every procrastination, every late synopsis, every time we’ve been late to class, every regret, every relationship, every discussion when we’ve been irritated, every class meeting, every apology, and every step of growth will have been well worth the time spent and the lessons learned. May God keep us and bless all of us as we take this next step.
Copyright August 2010 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.