Nobody remembers what the commencement speaker says, began Pinsky, the longest serving U.S. poet laureate, in his address to the Universitys undergraduate class of 2001 April 29 in Michigan Stadium.
Yet Pinsky termed commencement exercises perhaps the most elaborate civic rituals in our American culture. But what, he asked, do the ceremony and ritual mean? Why are the young graduates wearing garments that suggest some remote era and yet at the same time emphasize how young many of you are? He described a mysterious quality to the garb and the ceremony, which, he proposed, celebrates two great obligations, two great tests that apply to every culture on Earth: caring for the young ones and honoring the old ones, including the ways and wisdoms of the dead.
The mystery in the ceremonies, Pinsky continued, is greater than any sentiments we can articulate. We remember its vital form rather than its content.
The tribe or community or nation that fails at either missionhonoring the old ones and teaching the youngbrings woe and destruction on itself, he declared.
Because colleges and universities are places where caring for the young and revering ancestors predominate, commencement exercises present a transition between the two broad purposes of any people. To transmit the memory of customs, wisdom and vital knowledge, we have devised language and writing. But we also transmit subtler messages such as, I love you but not that way or where the best food is at what time of year. For this reason, artpoetry and painting and music and danceare not ornaments at the fringes of human intelligence and accomplishment, but rather they are at the core of our intelligence, Pinsky said.
|Though the graduates donned identical attire, each celebrated his or her accomplishments at the University.|
The other honorary degree recipients were: William Davidson, chairman, president and CEO of Guardian Industries; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; Bill Ivey, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts; and Adam Michnik, a founder of Polands Solidarity movement.
Prominent anthropologist, educator and alumnus Sahlins delivered the graduate commencement address April 27 in Hill Auditorium.
Retired since 1997, Sahlins still teaches periodically. He received his bachelors degree from the U-M and completed his graduate studies at the U-M and at Columbia University. While a faculty member in 195774, Sahlins was credited with proposing the countrys first teach-in, which was held in 1965 at the University to protest the U.S. governments increasing involvement in the Vietnam War.
|Honorary degree recipient Ruth Bader Ginsburg and President Lee C. Bollinger talk before the undergraduate commencement exercises.|
In his address to graduate students, Sahlins touched on his time as a faculty member at the University. He described the political and intellectual climate of the Vietnam War era, noting that many liberal intellectuals felt betrayed when so-called peace candidate Lyndon Johnson authorized the massive bombing of North Vietnam. An increasing generation gap and developing youth culture, as well as something Sahlins described as riot envy on the Michigan campus, added to the activism of the students, faculty and staff.
Sahlins told of his own footnote to history: his involvement with the first teach-in. His late-night suggestion to a faculty protest group to hold a teach-in instead of a one-day strike is documented in Senate Document No. 72 of the 89th Congress, The Anti-Vietnam Agitation and the Teach-In Movement: The Problem of Communist Infiltration and Exploitation.
|A graduate snaps photos of friends and family while balancing his commencement program. Photos by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services|
Sahlins related other examplessuch as the New York Giants 1951 National League baseball championship, won by Bobby Thomsons dramatic home runto describe how individuals become historical agents. He told the audience members to think critically, using their educations to make a mark with a fresh idea or approach.
If you find yourself in a position to do something differentlocally or nationally, politically or academicallydo something interestingly different, he advised. If you go with the flow, no onell know. If you surrender to the social trend, the society will be the historical subject.