Vital Signs

Education in an Age of Haste

A Class Day Speech

Not much more than 24 hours ago, one of many of you who could get away with it asked me to speak to you on Class Day. It hit me that for a tutor who insists on students meeting deadlines, the situation has the best of comic myth: you got yours back, and at the same time gave me an honor whose sweetness I can taste.

You will, as you grow taller, stronger in yourself and deeper, realize the sweetness of the love that has surrounded you here. It is strange how love in the past, the love of the past, can reach you in the present, how twenty years later you can feel the love of teachers you took for granted and did not recognize at the time, proof, if any such is needed, that the past has its own life, that it really does live in us and beyond us, perhaps more so in the West than anywhere else.

For the West is the civilization that remembers the most, and most accurately—the reason you should learn Creek and Latin. At the same time, in fits of inconsequence, it wants to destroy that past, to do away with it, to wipe it out, to act as if we came from nowhere, had no parents, had no name.

As it is, we do not know what to do with our names. They seem like conventions from another time, an embarrassment, something we have inherited and do not know what to do with. But the real point is inheritances have to be earned, and earning them takes the better part of a lifetime, perhaps a whole lifetime.

When...

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