Good afternoon! It’s my great pleasure to welcome the Robert D. Clark Honors College class of 2020! And the class of 2021! And the class of 2022! I’m Carol Stabile, acting dean of the College and a professor of gender studies and media history.
We begin this event by following the Indigenous protocol of acknowledging the original people of the land we occupy. The University of Oregon is located on Kalapuya ilihi, the traditional indigenous homeland of the Kalapuya people. Following treaties between 1851 and 1855, Kalapuya people were dispossessed of their indigenous homeland by the United States government and forcibly removed to the Coast Reservation in Western Oregon. Today, Kalapuya descendants are primarily citizens of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, and they continue to make important contributions to their communities, to the UO, to Oregon, and to the world.
We are so pleased to welcome you to the CHC graduation celebration. If you haven’t already, please check out the display cases on the third floor, which have information about student award winners, displays about CHC courses, and more. And there’s a photo booth on the second floor, with a beautiful Chapman Hall background, so you can take selfies and photos with friends and family. Faculty members (clad in regalia) and staff are roaming throughout the building, eager to talk about our wonderful graduates.
...we are celebrating
not one, but
As you know, this year’s event presented a special set of challenges: we are celebrating not one, but three classes; we wanted this event to be a unique celebration of the community that was denied to us since March 2020; and we needed to have contingency plans for the weather (thank goodness) and for increases in COVID cases. I say with only some bias that the CHC has the best staff at UO. Thanks to all of them for making this event possible. A very special thank you to three staff members who came together just a few short months ago and voluntarily took on the work of planning this event on top of all the other work they normally do for the college. Please join me in thanking Renee Dorjahn, CHC Associate Dean of Finance & Administration—herself a CHC alum; Elin England, Director of Alumni and Community Engagement; and Ryan Theiss, Office Specialist. They’ve had to pivot so many times in the last week that it has made all our heads spin. Renee, Elin, and Ryan—wherever you are in Chapman, could you please take a bow? Professors Gallagher, Raisanen, and Paty will track you down—they have a little something for you.
On to my remarks. You’ll be relieved to hear that a much longer and far more brilliant version of these remarks had to be scrapped because of the weather, but I find that once I start talking about our students, it’s hard for me to stop. Part of the hubris of being a college professor—and believe you me, there’s plenty of that—is the belief that we are founts of wisdom, gatekeepers of knowledge, and what contemporary thinkers describe as “the sage on the stage.” Brazilian philosopher of education Paulo Freire described this as the banking model of education. In part, he drew this metaphor from Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, in which school board Superintendent Thomas Gradgrind treats students like “little pitchers,” tiny vessels “to be filled . . . full of facts.” It’s hard to imagine a form of education more antithetical to the liberal arts mission of the Clark Honors College. Students are hardly little pitchers in Professor Dare Baldwin and Professor Carol Paty’s Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing, where by Week 3, students’ enthusiasm transforms their classes into workshops for collaboration and creativity. In Professor Casey Shoop’s wide-ranging seminars, Shoop not only shares information and skills, but also, in the words of one of his students, “values what students bring to the table as well, and strives to learn as much as he aims to teach.”
The great value of a liberal
arts education... is that
we strive to learn as much
as we aim to teach.
The great value of a liberal arts education—one so frequently overlooked by its critics—is, as Professor Shoop’s student made clear—that we strive to learn as much as we aim to teach. Students who graduate with a liberal arts education are curious, open to new knowledge, and intellectually flexible. Those of us who teach them find ourselves transformed by the process in a cycle of reciprocity—and I imagine that those of us educated in the liberal arts traditions had the same effect on our professors. We all bring something new to the table. I grew up in an amusement park in New Jersey. My father was a truck driver who never finished grade school and my mother didn’t go to college. Nowadays, they call students like me first generation, but back then, we just called ourselves lucky. And I was lucky: I learned in small classes with students who were sharp, curious, and full of ideas that shook me by the scruff of the neck, ideas that startled me, that taught me how to identify the point from which I saw what I saw—to think beyond the bigotries of my upbringing. I was humbled by the vast archive of knowledge I suddenly had access to, and the creativity and ingenuity of generations. I was transformed by it. But I also understood—because many of my own teachers were the first of their kind to succeed in these spaces—that the democratic promise of education remained an ideal. I was lucky, but many were not. Those of us who have been transformed have a responsibility to continue the work of transforming education.
The students I’ve taught in the years since have ensured that I’ve never stopped learning, as much as I’ve aimed to teach. This process of learning deepened during the pandemic, and my vision broadened as I took on the fearsome responsibility of piloting a College in the midst of a global pandemic. Over the past two years, I’ve served as dean while at the same time being the mother of a college-age child, watching as he adjusted to Zoom classes, and struggled to manage his disappointment during that long year of remote learning and social isolation. I’ve also been a teacher, advisor, and mentor to you, my CHC students, and I saw your triumphs and disappointments up close.
Classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022, I want to share a few of the things that you’ve taught me, with gratitude, and in the hope that you will go on to teach others in the lives you are leading, or will lead, after this rainy Oregon afternoon. Some of this is drawn from my experiences with you, but I hope you all find pieces of your selves in these examples.
- You taught me through your research. You showed me all the ways in which research cultivates perspectives and attitudes this world desperately needs. You reminded me of the value of research as a practice and process. Writer and philosopher Susan Sontag once wrote, “You can’t hit someone while you are thinking”—a phrase that emphasizes how thought and research can help slow down a world that’s far too reactive. I was dazzled by the sheer diversity of thesis topics you devoted thousands of hours to researching and writing—from the impact of the pandemic on tourism on the Oregon Coast, to the criminalization of Black youth, to migraine management, to anemia and socioeconomic status among older adults, and so much more. Family and friends: please take a look at the list of theses in the program book. I’m sure they will dazzle you, too.
- You showed me what the present looks like to a generation that did not come of age, as I did, in an era still buoyed by the liberation movements of the 60s and 70s. The present was so oppressive during the years you spent with us. And yet—perhaps because you were so raw with the anguish of it—you connected our oppressive present to the complexities of the past in an effort to conjure different futures. In the words of W.E.B. Du Bois—one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century—you saw that “Nations reel and stagger on their way; they make hideous mistakes; they commit frightful wrongs; they do great and beautiful things. And shall we not best guide humanity by telling the truth about all this, so far as the truth is ascertainable?” Or, as a tribal elder told you in Professor Michael Moffitt’s course, “Searching for the Cayuse Five,” “History is broken. History is being violated by misinformation.” Through your thinking, your research, your creativity and imagination, many of you have set out to correct that.
- You taught me that despite the bad press, not all online learning is bad, a timely reminder that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to education. In fact, for some of you with health challenges or difficult personal circumstances or rigid schedules, remote learning was what let you finish your degree. You shared those challenges with me, in classes and in our meetings in Chapman Hall. I saw how your online courses let you flourish. I won’t forget those lessons.
- You taught me about the generosity of feedback. You all received A LOT of feedback over the past 4 odd years, in the shape of comments, test results, and grades. I’ll be the first to say that not all feedback is good feedback. But I saw you give one another feedback at your thesis defenses and in my Calderwood Seminars that was joyful and generous. It was feedback you gave each other to help you improve, not to tear each other down. You grew from that feedback, and learned to appreciate (if not always relish) the input and perspectives of others. There’s a lot your elders can learn from you about accepting feedback with gratitude and enthusiasm.
- Over the past decade, there’s been so much talk about finding your passion in your work. Talking to my advisees about what matters to you as whole people and not just as students or workers taught me how wrong this approach can be. You helped me understand that what matters is the kind of life you want to lead. To figure that out, you have to think about purpose and not passion, because passion ignites—it burns hot and fast—but purpose will see you through. Many of you want to have lives that allow you to focus on community, family, living sustainably, and working to ensure that your children don’t inherit the same set of terrible problems we’ve left you to deal with. I saw you discover satisfaction in doing work that’s meaningful—whether that work was a thesis on unhoused people and their challenges, or imagining what a just migration policy would look like, or identifying why people who inject drugs in Lane county hesitate to get Covid-19 vaccines, or thinking about what we can learn from maternity leave policies in the factories of Bangladesh, or evaluating zinc contamination in Eugene-Springfield waterways.
- You showed all of us just how precious community is. You found ways to build communities through isolation, through masks, through quarantines. You built communities in your classes and in your labs. I was at one thesis defense where your entire lab turned out to cheer you on. You built amazing communities among yourselves—three of you who took one of my classes lived together throughout the pandemic. I don’t know what happened in that house—besides some very amazing bread baking—but the community you created produced three of the most brilliant honors theses I’ve ever read. Others shared their love of crafting, laughter, thesis-writing woes, and chocolate at the front desk here in Chapman Hall.
- We have a tendency to take many intangible aspects of everyday life for granted until we suddenly lose them. Able-bodied people don’t understand how precious mobility is until they no longer enjoy it. We might not fully appreciate all the benefits of stable housing or food security, until we lose a job. When it comes to education, we only abstractly appreciated the magic of what can happen in a classroom, when somewhere between a dozen and 19 students start to percolate ideas. That was taken from us during the pandemic, along with many of the social experiences that should be part of your college years. And if that wasn’t enough to bear, we lived through the murder of George Floyd and uprisings throughout the world; an insurrection; wildfires and the growing recognition (especially in the western United States) that climate change wasn’t on some remote horizon, but that it had already altered the land and our lives. There was despair and depression and anxiety in the wake of this, but there was also so much hope. You showed me that your dreams—even if they had to be deferred—have an explosive power, and that you are carrying them into the future. A few weeks ago, I sat in on a class where one of you said, tears pooling in your eyes, that the work you had been doing with your community partners had for the first time in months given you great hope. You reminded me that change begins with what might look like little actions, but that these little actions add up, in unpredictable and brilliant ways. In the magnificently queer words of grumpy poet Dinos Christianopoulos—words appropriated by the Zapatistas in the 1990s—“What didn’t you do to bury me / but you forgot that I was a seed.”
Classes of 2020, 2021, 2022, you are seeds. Thank you from all of us for the pleasure and the privilege of learning from you.