Last week we walked at BYU’s graduation ceremonies. Though we wont officially graduate till after the completion of course work at the University of Cambridge later this summer, the history and tradition of graduation merits participation. Besides the usual graduation advice, the graduation ceremony harks back to a time when it was more than a changing of the tassel. Even today, instructors at institutions like Oxford and Cambridge wear their doctoral gowns as they teach.
At the Friday Convocation ceremony, retiring history professor, Dr. Frank Fox gave the main address. The following is a selection from that speech:
The unexamined life,â€ said Socrates, â€œis not worth living.â€
Much of what you have acquired at BYU are the tools of examination. We have taught you how to examine the spatial world, the temporal world, the world of human relations, the world of thought and feeling, the world of ideas. And we have imparted gospel insights for keeping perspectives clear and priorities straight.
Yet it would surprise you to know how rare the examined life still is. Many of your predecessors have gone forth as pilgrims, never really examining anything, simply putting one foot ahead of the other, receiving whatever is offered by friends, by neighbors, by authorities, by the media, by those who are but pilgrims themselvesâ€”the blind leading the blind.
A few months ago, you put thousands of hard-earned dollars into a ponzi scheme that confidently promised to earn you 12% per day on your investment. Such are the wages of the unexamined life.
Others fall prey to different scams. Much of the academic world has embraced a view of life that asks only about gender, class or ethnicityâ€”the things that divide usâ€”ignoring the things that unite us, such as our common moral sense. A distinguished professor of bioethics recently stated that he saw nothing wrong with the killing of full term infants and the harvesting of their organsâ€”yet saw plenty wrong with the eating of animals. The unexamined life strikes again!
The examined life literally examines everything. It questions everythingâ€”not in the corrosive manner that weakens faith but in the constructive manner that strengthens faith and gives it surer footing.
The examined life favors reality over appearance. Substance over style. Fact over opinion. It prefers universals to the partial, the fleeting, the fashionableâ€”and the relative. It seeks to learn those truths which will in fact make us free.
It asks hard questionsâ€”and demands good answers. With the examined life it is never enough to say: â€œbecause someone told me so.â€
Too much of what is presented in class, the news media, film, the books we read, etc., is accepted as fact. Skepticism and examination, critical thought and analysis are of the utmost importance. But they should not be mistaken for cynicism or pessimism. Cynics and pessimists produce nothing. They add nothing to the debate or discussion.
Skeptics–these are people who question the status quo. When they see a problem, they find a solution. Skeptics are not cynical or pessimistic. They are optimists.
A history degree teaches a good many things. It teaches one to read and write and think. But it does not require a degree in history to recognize and understand one surpassing truth. Optimists and skeptics shape history and make the world better, not cynics and pessimists.