Monday, December 5, 2011

Graduation Speech by Psyche Ready

Psyche Zarah Ready is a 2000 graduate of Shimer College. The following is the text of the speech she gave at the May 2000 commencement.

Thank you for coming to this celebration, this celebration of the people who are graduating today, this celebration of life, of Shimer College.

I think that we as Shimer Community members are fond of ceremonious undertakings and sacred traditions, often to the extent where we seem to be making a big deal out of inconsequential things, but of course, nothing here at Shimer is inconsequential. Our work here, our life here is important. We have sanctified traditions such as this, the commencement, in order to give proper due.

I lost someone very important to me this week. We all did. It has been a difficult week, the most difficult week I think I’ve ever seen here at Shimer. No one is really on steady ground and the community has been shaken at the roots. Yet I have seen here this week a presence of joy. I have seen the manner in which the students have cared for one another. I have seen community spirit take on renewed life and I have seen community spirit show its face plainly. I am proud today—proud because I can call myself a student of this wonderful place. I am proud of Shimer for staying strong even through the most wracked ocean. Shaken by sorrow, we did not forget the lessons we have learned in our classes, in our lives at Shimer.

I don’t think we often talk about what it is precisely that we love so much about Shimer. We talk about the Great Books, we talk about discussion classes, we talk about the brilliantly colorful people; sometimes we just say, “How can I ever leave this place?” or “Man, I hate leaving Shimer. I hate being in the outside world.” And no one here every questions these statements. They’re nodded to with a sympathetic turn of the eyes. So what is it that we love? I have a feeling that this week has exposed to many what it is.

I would say dialogue—and when I say dialogue, I mean love. For what is the Socratic method but love? We sit down to a table together, where no one is above anyone else—I love you. We listen to others’ words—I love you. We share our own words—I love you. We read a book, we discuss that book over hours and hours and years and years—I love you. And, of course, dialogue is more than what happens in a classroom, although that’s where it begins. This loving voice, touch, sight, thought, speech, becomes a part of us. We exude love all over the place. Did you ever wonder why we hug so much at Shimer? “I haven’t seen you since before you went to class (hug).” I think we hug because of this great amount of love-- but I also think that we do so because of a need for Shimer students to spread that well of life inside all of us wide open and to let it stream across the world. In our loving discussion classes, we do not just discuss; we delve, we pry, we dig and seek out beauty, truth. We want to find the mysteries of the world and display them across the sky, across the grass. We want to go deeper than anyone ever has. And so common speech and common hand-shake affection does not cut it—those hugs are an affirmation, a continuing affirmation of what is so often ignored or avoided in this world. We are being truly honest—we are sharing love with each other that few people dare to expose. We exist in a constantly flowing stream of love.

OK, perhaps that sounds kind of extreme. I will now speak of Shimer from an outsider’s view, to the extent that that is possible. We are a group of people who read old unread books, often out of print and with archaic translations, we discuss high and lofty ideas and abstract esoteric thoughts; complications of long, hyphenated words and semicolon after semicolon with no relevance to the ”real world”—to the things which make the system run. We surround ourselves with an ivory tower of philosophy, and we pretend for four years that we do not have to leave.

Well, I have a really good idea: let’s not leave that ivory tower. Let’s not leave that ivory tower, for I don’t really think it is one. If it is, why is it that I have never noticed the changing of the seasons as profoundly and in such detail as I have at Shimer? Why is it that on the first warm days of the Midwestern spring we sprawl ourselves barefoot on the cold grass? And why, when a storm is gathering in the night, do we sit and watch the sky, watch the tumbling of clouds and the slow introduction of thunder and the white dance of lightning until we can finally dance shrieking and laughing under a torrent of hailstones? Why is every new green leaf on the tree outside of our house noticed and praised? And why are the flowers discussed and meditated upon with such interest and pleasure? Do other schools have rumours that spread across campus that the snowdrops have bloomed?

And I don’t think that I could not ask about our deep ubiquitous passion for philosophy. Why, when we try to have a party and forget our schoolwork, is Heidegger’s Conversation on a Country Path ringing in my ears from all directions, and why can’t we stop talking about Tristan and Isolde even when our comps are over?

Why do Shimer students pass through emotions and passions together, why do we live each sorrow side by side, and why do we always know when something is wrong, or when something glorious is about to happen? Why does this day stick out in my mind: my quiet self was very, very sad, and I never breathed a word of it to anyone. But into my hands by the end of that day three students here, three shining souls, had each given me a magic stone? What is this bizarre emotional connection we all seem to have, and why are we such beauty-worshipping souls?

Enough questions. A wise woman (the woman who works at Horsefeathers) once told me, “I know I am on the right path when coincidences happen to me.” These bizarre connections are more than coincidence. MAGIC is dripping from the trees all around us, and from the eaves of buildings and from our very fingertips and tongues. For we are not living in an ivory tower here at Shimer. And even if we are, it is a beautiful ivory tower, and in it is the world. The true, living and breathing world all human beings desire. There are no trees blooming in ivory towers, and there is no holding of hands.

Of course, we do not remain here at Shimer forever. Some of us have tried. But when the time comes to move past Shimer we enter the world outside. And we take with us that love and beauty and weave it into our lives and the people and places we touch with our selves. We have been given a great gift—a gift which is an opening of eyes, and to quote my darling Sarah Delezen—a growing-into-one’s-self. Forget what you will of who slew Achilles or of the intricacies of Descartes proof. But please do not forget the blooming of the trees, or the way the wind felt across your back that first warm day of Spring. Don’t forget the love one sometimes sees hovering in the air above the benches outside where a group of your friends are talking, or that image of the clearing that finally appeared to you in your dreams. These are what Shimer is, and they are what keep us constantly coming back, if not in body, at least in spirit.

I thought about thanking individuals today. All of the kind kind souls, teachers and students alike, who have helped me personally or who have helped the community to grow. But there is no one that I have met at Shimer that I would not like to thank. I hope that you all have a wonderful day, and know that I thank you from deep deep inside me. You have given me beauty and love which have allowed my spirit to thrive, and my words to fit into the patterns I’ve always wanted to see. I’ve had a wonderful time.

Bless you all.

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