Saturday, January 31, 2009

From the Archives: 1983 Stonehill College Commencement Speech - "The Unreasonable Man"

The last time I felt like this was the first day of my freshman year. My father parked his car in the circle in front of O'Hara Hall. My hand paused next to the door handle in that moment, unsure whether I should get out, and do all which that implied, or stay in the car and go home. It would have been easy to stay in that car, and I probably would have saved a dollar or two, but I opened the door on a venture that lasted four years.

Today I find myself gripped to that same door handle. And I am older now, and I cannot stay in the car. The time has come for me to quit my father's car.

It is natural for one so young to look forward, grasping the future with an innocent hand, but I would prefer to look backward, regarding the past as I would a saged learner, as a tool to see into my own nature, and the nature of all men and women.

I came to Stonehill a bit naive. I saw truth in all things, but someone was trying to hide it from me. There was a discrepancy between what I believed to be the natural state and the actual state. There were too many rules.

George Bernard Shaw once said that "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man." I became unreasonable.

I became an "angry young man," disagreeing with almost any rule that might be arbitrarily imposed on me. Rules absorb truth. Truth is freedom. I was not free.

I spent a good deal of my freshman year banging my head against the wall, running off at the mouth, expecting answers without asking questions and receiving none. In my sophomore and junior years, practical action replaced talking. Previously, I had been involved in the shadows of student government. In my second and third years at Stonehill, I ran for student government president, losing both times.

In those same two years, I saw the way the game is played, and in my youth, I tried to change it. I was seeking freedom by altaring the rules.

My senior year has come and passed quickly. I haven't been very involved in Stonehill this year. I worked in the public affairs office writing nice things about the college. I lived with eleven fellow students in Manchester House. We talked.

In my senior year at Stonehill, I left the stage of action and went back to talking. I was wrong to think that what I wanted could be won by altaring the rules.

This year has been reflective. I appreciate the value of the academic experience. It tuned me like a fine engine. I affirm the importance of a balance between the professional and personal life. I fought for that in my sophomore year. I see the rules that I have fought so hard against as self-imposed. Every man and woman is as free as he or she chooses to be. Even at Stonehill, with all of its regulations, it is possible to be free. I am free. Stonehill is the foundation upon which to base an autonomous life. All of the structures of world order are here. We can see through them and be free.

Freedom does not lie in any parent’s rule. Freedom does not lie in any institutions rule. It does not exist under any government's rule. Freedom exists under one's own rule.

Freedom is not tangible. It does not exist in a schoolbook. It is not in any government document. It is not written in any bill of rights. Freedom is truth. It comes from within. It is not granted by any outside order.

There are free men and women in America. There are free men and women in the Soviet Union. Freedom exists in third world countries. Freedom exists wherever people are strong enough to see truth and say, "I am free."

Sovereignty is not gained by changing any earthly order. All orders are the same. All governments are the same. Some may seem to give freedom, and others may seem to limit freedom, but liberty cannot be granted by any government. Governments issue their own truths and thus limit freedom. Freedom comes to those who see it. Men on death row, behind prison walls, can be free.

As we grow older, we become caricatures of ourselves. We develop a philosophy and risk drowning in it, becoming increasingly narrow-minded. Let us hope that the young model upon which we base our life is free, for if it is not, we become prisoners in a deliberate world of imposed order which we allow to rule our sacred lives. We live in a time when we must be increasingly willing to take control. Our leadership has driven us to an age of destruction. We can die at the touch of a button.

Today I am leaving this campus. I may never return, although I probably will. I cannot leave what we lived here. I may never see things as clearly as when I saw things here. I will walk away, I will abandon my father's car, thanking him for driving me this far, and I will never forget what I saw here.

I leave Stonehill with a keener understanding of truth. I lost my innocence, and I regained it here. I still see the way I always do and now I know the rules.
Buy The Hierophant:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember that the college wanted to censor this. Those bastards! Thankfully you read the speech that you wrote and ignored their reactionary dumbed down "feel-good" propaganda. JF in NYC.