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Lynn 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. It’s 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 settle.

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 thoughts.

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 world’s 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.

Congratulations and good night.

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