The following is the transcript of a speech I submitted for the commencement address at my graduation ceremony (for my PhD. from the University of Utah's Graduate School of Education). It received a very polite rejection letter. Here it is anyway. It's my attempt at being reflective, thoughtful, and creative. (Who knows when that will happen again, so I might as well document it somehow.)
To begin, I should apologize.
This speech is a rebuttal to a commencement address that I heard at another university about four years ago. So, there may be a few of you who will not be familiar with the original speech. Iíll summarize, but Iím fairly certain that the same speech has been given several times since the time that I heard it, and Iím almost positive that the same speech is being given right now in some other commencement ceremony. In light of this, youíve probably already heard it.
Iíll remind you of how it goes, anyway:
In the address that I heard, the speaker told graduates about what a wonderful time it is to be alive, how our world is changing at a faster-than-ever pace, and how technology will bring to us so many new innovations, fantasies, and yet-to-be-imagined possibilities. He told his audience how we need to embrace these new technologies, learn how to use them, and continue to use and produce them in order to make this world a better place than it was yesterday.
It should be noted that the speaker was employed by Hewlett Packard, so Iím not sure how objective he really was.
Even so, he makes a good point. The world is a much different place than it was ten, twenty, or fifty years ago. The speaker I heard talked about his granddaughterís new toy that could respond to the child and her actions. He seemed quite convinced that devices such as these were going to be our societyís salvation. It is certainly evident that he isnít the only one who thinks this way.
However, while others will tell us that we need to seize these new technologies, improve upon them, and use them for our betterment, I think that we need to focus on a new goal:
We need to learn to get along with one another.
This, by itself, would be hard enough. But I think that in order to get along, we have to first start to understand one another a little better, and I think that this is especially hard to do. The problem with understanding one another Ė with understanding anything actually Ė is that we have to think differently than what we think is normal, true, real, correct, standard, etc. A "truth" is not so much "what is," but what we make of "what is." This is something that has become increasingly clear to me during my years in the College of Education, both in classes and through my research. What is "real" to one is just a matter of her perspective. What is "normal" to someone is abnormal to another.
As educators, we have to realize and promote the fact that there are lots of ways of thinking about and perceiving the world. If we want to get along, then we have to start understanding how each of us sees the world a little differently. We all come from different backgrounds, different educations, different families, different cultures. Itís wonderful Ė this diversity is what makes us each who we are. But we canít thrive on just being our own unique islands. As humans, we thrive when we understand one another. We need to have compassion for one another. We need to relate to one another. We can only do these things if we, as well as our students, can start to see that all of the truths to which we cling so dearly are only "true" via our own, unique perspective.
Kurt Vonnegut said it like this:
I didnít learn until I was in college about all the other cultures, and I should have learned that in the first grade. A first grader should understand that his or her culture isnít a rational invention; that there are thousands of other cultures and they all work pretty well; that all cultures function on faith rather than truth; that there are lots of alternatives to our own society.
Still, Iíll open myself to the possibility that Iíve got it all wrong. Maybe the push for more technology in our classrooms and in our homes and in the palms of our hands will really be our salvation. I gave this an honest try. I went to the toy store and I played with one of those technological marvels which that other commencement speaker promoted. It was pretty neat. It told me to push on a green square. I did that, and it responded by telling me that Iíd done a good job. But somehow I still felt that something was missing. I looked around to see if anyone else was watching, but no one was. No one else had noticed my wondrous accomplishment of having found, identified, and pushed the green square.
My daughter could relate to me. Sheís almost one and a half. She can mimic an elephant if you ask her Ė or even a cow. She was also able to identify the green square. She looked around after having pushed the four-sided shape, not too impressed and not too sure of what had just occurred. But then she turned to me, and I exclaimed what a great thing the green square was. The shared experience of the green square was suddenly exciting. We both clapped and laughed.