Chatham College for Women
Commencement 2009Dr. Barazzone's closing remarks to students
May 23, 2009
Today you leave the Academy to join the wide, wide world, as your senior "moving up" song says. I would like to suggest that they the two places are tied together. The lessons you have learned in the Academy about how we should treat one another are not so different than the rules for "out there" in the wide, wide world. I was very inspired by President Obama′s recent commencement speech at Notre Dame.
President Obama gave one of the best speeches I have ever heard in response to the controversy over about a Catholic institution giving him an honorary degree due to his position in support of choice. He offered in that speech one of wisest and best messages for living a good life I have heard. He addressed one of the core issues of (civil society and for that matter any kind of human interaction) when he talked about how to deal with those of different views, especially those with views apparently irreconcilable with your own. He called for "Open hearts. Open Minds. Fair minded words." He pointed out there were usually understandable roots that give rise to conflicting visions and gave as just one example the conflicting views of the "soldier and the lawyer [who] may both love this country with equal passion and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to keep us from harm." And he gave other examples.
He acknowledged that at the end of the day, many points of view might just be irreconcilable. In light of that difference, he asked: "How do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?" How, in short, do we find a way "to live together as one human family"?
This is the meaning of an education grounded in the liberal arts: indeed, it is a search for conviction, for clarity, but also a search for tolerance and respect, not just for others′ ideas but for the person who holds those beliefs so different from your own. Open hearts goes beyond mere tolerance of coexistence, to openness, to willingness to listen; and "open minds" means listening as well as thinking. As life goes on many of you will come to believe with me that ambiguity with its shades of grey and fuzzy rather than sharp outlines is the best description of the world. But even if you do not see the world that way as one of ambiguity -- and you are blessed with the firm conviction of absolutes -, we need the message (the message of our President) in the wide, wide world: "Open hearts. Open minds. Fair minded words." Only with this will we succeed in, the President′s words again: "in promoting greater understanding and co-operation even among persons of "good will, principle and purpose". It is, as the President said only by the presumption of the good faith on the part of others that we will be able to move forward together.
And so on behalf of Chatham University, I wish you "open hearts, open minds, and fair minded words" and along with all the other good that life can bring you. God speed.