Morgan's Baccalaureate Address
Following is the
baccalaureate speech delivered by Professor of Anthropology Lynn
Morgan for the 2002 commencement weekend.
Good evening. Acting
President Tatum, Trustees, honored guests, distinguished colleagues,
parents and friends, and especially to you, the class of 2002
-- gathering here under a full moon -- congratulations!
This is a night of
emotional extremes, isn't it. You are about to graduate. Graduation
is such a contradictory concept. It's both an ending and a beginning.
Its a bittersweet time. Do you find yourself laughing --
and crying -- at the same time? You're certainly proud of your
accomplishments, but do you also have a twinge of regret at the
opportunities you may have missed over the past four years? Do
you find yourself anxious -- as well as optimistic -- about what
the future may bring? It's amazing to contemplate how one word
manages to contain so many meanings. But of course, this is the
nature of words, because words are the symbols through which we
work out our own inconsistent philosophies and competing desires.
Tonight I'd like to talk about another word, a word that also
contains its opposite, and in its contradictory meanings contains
all that I want for you. The word is "settle."
When you step outside
those wrought-iron gates tomorrow afternoon, you will have a destination
in mind, a plan to settle down somewhere. After your years of
college, doesn't the thought of settling down sound good, maybe
even overdue? To find a place you'd like to be, to live close
to people you will love for a long, long time. It might be on
the family farm in Pennsylvania, or atop a mountain somewhere,
or in your lab in Cambridge or a village in India. Maybe you'll
find a job and repay some of those loans. Somewhere, you will
What does it mean
to settle? To settle is to become quiet, to know who you are,
to find tranquility, to be at peace. You will find a home or make
a home, put down roots, nurture new projects and watch them grow
and flourish. I wish all those things for you.
But "to settle" also
means to rectify, to put things right. And to put things right
implies that things are wrong. Hmmmmmmmm. Is something wrong,
a storm, a war, some fearful dis-ease?
Of course, many things
are wrong. Five thousand children every day are left orphaned
by AIDS. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening to
grotesque proportions. More than 20% of the world's population
live on less than $1/day. The word "settlement" glosses over the
violent reality of colonization and displacement -- yes, many
things are wrong. We live in troubling times, and many things
need to be rectified.
These are unsettling
The word "settle"
can mean to accept the world as it is, to become complacent, to
build a cocoon, to view the world's problems from a place too
remote or privileged to be bothered.
But that won't happen
to you. You won't adjust to injustice, because you are a thinker,
an activist, a seeker of knowledge. After all these years at Mount
Holyoke, you know that knowledge can be unsettling. That's why
you won't be satisfied with simple answers, any more than you
will be paralyzed by complexity. You know that being unsettled
can be a positive thing, an overture or awakening. If you're awake
and unsettled, you need to respond. You need to act, move, sing,
lose your temper, and live an unquiet life.
I imagine you like
Zora Neale Hurston, who said, "I love myself when I am laughing,
and then again when I am looking mean and impressive."
For you, settling
will never mean becoming compliant or complacent, because "settle"
also means "resolve." To resolve requires the skills to listen,
the acuity to outwit your foes, the courage to be a witness, the
wisdom to adjudicate. It sometimes requires that you look mean
and impressive. You are a woman of resolve, determined to create
new solutions -- to re-solve the worlds intractable problems.
As we send you off
to graduate tomorrow, these are the many meanings of "settle"
that I want for you. I hope you will find beauty and tranquility
and peace in your own life, but I hope you won't settle down.
In fact, I know you can't settle down. You won't settle for oppression
or mediocrity or inequality. You'll get angry, take action, seek
justice, speak out. You'll unsettle those around you. And that's
only one of the reasons I'm so proud of you.