Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sarah Kimmel (1996) on the Shimer Community

Sarah Kimmel graduated from Shimer College in 1996, having spent her senior year in Shimer's Oxford study-abroad program. She is currently a research specialist at Accenture, with more than 10 years of experience in human capital research. This is the text of the speech she gave as valedictorian at the Spring 1996 commencement ceremony.

Tell me why i am so bitter
Tell me why i have nothing to say
Tell me why i am no longer a disciple of the cause

Shimer, i have seen my ideals shattered
i have seen the wasteland of my youth stretched upon time's dissecting table
i have seen young women grow old and young again
i have seen the lost circling in the eyes of men, boys, men
Shimer, i do not know if this is bad
i do not know what bad is
perhaps, this is a small deception which i practice on myself
of these, there have been many.

Shimer, i have tried to be inspired.
i have called the muse and reached his answering machine.
i have left a message, he has not returned my call.
i wanted to try to bring you hope
the lifting up with words, however ephemeral
but hope implies a future, the cause, progress.
i am suspicious of these things.
Shimer, i do not know what to say.

i cannot say that now we go out into a world more real.
i know all too well how real you are, Shimer.
i do not want to exhort you to transcend your petty problems.
This is a world of petty problems, we are a petty people.
it is likely that this too serves its purpose
that without it, we would see other ills beset us.

Shimer, do not get the wrong ideas.
it is a mistake to say i am ungrateful for what you have given.
i recognize its merits and its pitfalls alike.
i would not return from this uncomfortable knowledge to
the warm and stable ignorance with which i arrived.
i would not, even if i could, which is impossible.
Shimer, i know i am expected to say certain things upon this stage.
To be thankful, modest, to regale this institution with the praise it should deserve.
Shimer, i would hope that you, at least, would understand
if i cannot say what is traditionally said.
i am trying to be honest, i do not know how much you care.
Shimer, we have all heard the arguments, about my personal freedom of inquiry and the oppression of the academic world.
Shimer, these are frightening, nearly unchallenged ideals we hold amongst ourselves
Shimer, these ideals have consequences.
Sooner or later, we must all face the abyss of freedom
we have held as our irrefutable dogma.
Shimer, before we go out to change the world, it is necessary to stop and ask why it should be changed,
to what specific end, and how we think we know this.
Shimer, this is the point at which we fold back upon ourselves into an infinitely regressing abyss of assumptions which seem to stand on nothing - perhaps this is an error.

Shimer, i have pined for sound convictions.
i am well aware how open to refutation i am.
That anyone with the smallest sense of certainty
can very easily brush me aside with a host of weighty words
can say i have succumbed to pessimism or any number of other ism's.
Shimer, you are aware that if i had brought you a message of hope, that too would have been easily refuted.
Shimer, is this correct?
When i maintain a position, however tentative,
i become a target - an easy target.
Shimer, we are all easy targets.
This does not help at all.
Shimer, it is a relatively simple thing
to destroy the argument of another.
It is something else altogether to build for ourselves,
with its inevitable confrontations with doubt and uncertainty.
Shimer it may be obvious that we need the courage to build.
But where are we to find this courage?
I must confess i have not found it from this institution
nor have i found it in myself alone.

Shimer, i would like to talk about community.
it is the most grievously misused word at this school.
More so even than dialogue or dialectic.
It is likely that this happens because we only ever bother to talk about community in its negative juridical sense.
As if the only aspect in which we are a community is when we are offended, as a body, by the actions of an individual agent against us. As if we only ever see solidarity when a 'they' attacks the 'us'. Shimer, this is not community.
Shimer, community is something which must be tended.
community is something which we make amongst ourselves.
Shimer, i knew there was community when i was hungry, and my fellow students fed me.
Shimer, i knew we made community between us, when one had trouble, and the others listened, when the others cared,
not because we were community,
not in the negative sense of duty,
but because, after all, it was not too much trouble,
and we needed one another.
I knew there was community when it was three in the morning,
i reeled with insomnia and someone had a pot of coffee brewing,
was willing to sit and talk with me about Goodall and Weber,
when we cared enough to plan the revolution together.
Shimer, there was community when i could share my thoughts,
and you could share yours, and we could en-courage one another.
en-courage. courage, courage is bestowed by the community we make between us.
Shimer, this is not a joke.

Shimer, i see a world atomized, reduced to pieces by the progress of mankind. The fragmentation of this world is impossible to ignore, and it is nearly inconceivable to act in the face of it.
The pieces are hungry for more pieces.
But there is no nourishment in pieces.
Understandably, no one wants to become the snack of the pieces.
no one wants to be an easy target.
perhaps, this is why i feel so bitter,
this is why i wonder what to say,
the cause grows daily more ambiguous,
discipleship seems daily more absurd.
what remains is you.
what remains is myself.
what remains is the occasional community between us.
and what remains of hope is a moment
a decision
when one has courage
takes a step
becomes an easy target
and the other doesn't take the shot
pulls the punch
en-courages
not for the greater good
not out of a sense of duty
not because they hold ideals greater than themselves
but because, after all, it is not too much trouble
and we need one another.

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