Interim Chancellor James Moeser's Closing Remarks
at University Commencement
May 10, 2014
James Moeser at UNCSA's 2014 University Commencement
This is also my commencement from UNCSA. I want to thank the trustees and President Ross for the honor of leading this amazing institution this year. I have been thrilled with your performances and getting to know many of you. I will continue to follow your careers with joy and pride. I will always be a pickle!
Let me leave you with some closing thoughts.
While I was at Chancellor at the University of Nebraska, we brought back a favorite son to give the first Governor’s lecture in the humanities. Ted Sorensen, who wrote many of John F. Kennedy’s most eloquent speeches, quoted an old poem of anonymous origin in that speech:
“If thou of fortune be bereft
and in thy store there be but left
sell one – and with that dole
buy hyacinths to feed the soul.”
Buy hyacinths to feed the soul.
Down in South Carolina, I once heard the late poet James Dickey recount the story of the famous debate in the Oxford Union one hundred and forty years ago between Thomas Henry Huxley, the biologist and public defender of Darwin and Matthew Arnold, the poet and Professor of Poetry at Oxford. These are Dickey’s words:
“Huxley contended that the future of education lay in confining the curriculum to technological subjects. These exclusively were to be taught, for the wave of the future was to be science, and education should recognize this and mold people to take their places within a culture not only dominated by science but created by it. If you look at our education today you can see evidence – plenty of it – of Huxley’s predictions. His opponent in the debate, Matthew Arnold, took the opposite view: the purpose of education is not to condition people to interrelate with machines, and to further research resulting in more machines, but to aid the student in becoming a certain kind of person, an individual with his own needs and own potentialities, perhaps including scientific preoccupations but not limited to them. It seems to me that Huxley was partially right in what he says – look at the sheer number of computer courses in schools – but that Arnold was entirely right. Arnold believed, with the poet John Keats, that life is a vale of soul making. He thought that life was given to him to find the right use of it, that it was a kind of continuous magical confrontation, requiring to be met with the right answer. This answer was to be derived from intuition, courage, and the accumulation of experience. It was not a formula of any kind, not a piece of rationality but rather a way of being and of acting. Life is seen as a vale – a valley, that is, a place between hills – of soul making.” End of quote.
This is the great challenge for the graduates of UNCSA. You have been blessed not only with talent and exceptional training in the arts, but also with the broadening and enriching experience of an education based in the liberal arts, equipping you with the knowledge and the wisdom to find the right use of your talent, to enrich not only your own soul, but also those around you. We want you to be not only great artists, but artist leaders.
Judge Alex Sanders, former president of the College of Charleston, in South Carolina, is a great story teller in the best tradition of the American South.
“My all-time favorite quote comes from the Civil War general, George Steadman,” Sanders said, speaking to a South Carolina audience. “He was on their side, not ours. He was addressing his troops just before the Battle of Second Manassas. The Yankees call it, I think, Bull Run.
“General Steadman apparently had a premonition as to how the battle was going to turn out.
“‘Gentlemen,’ he said, ‘I want you to fight vigorously and then run away. As I am a bit lame, I going to begin running now.’”
Graduates, that’s my advice to you: Start running now. Don’t wait any longer to begin using the education and the experiences you have enjoyed at UNCSA to begin the work of soul making – of deepening your own personal values of ethics and morality, of sensitivity to beauty and to those around you, and committing yourselves to a life of service of others.
Buy hyacinths to feed the soul, and start running now.
And again, congratulations to you all!
Photos by Allen Aycock