Remarks by James V. Schall, S. J., Professor, Department of Government, on the Occasion of Receiving the Bunn Medal, Teaching Award designated by Graduating Seniors, College of Arts and Sciences, Georgetown University, Tropaia (University Awards) Exercises, May 21, 2004. 1040 words.
Dean McAuliffe, Colleagues, Members of the Class of 2004, parents, relatives, and friends.
Two Thousand – Two Thousand and Four – these are the years this class has spent at Georgetown, above Potomac’s waters.
The day after I graduated from a small high school in Iowa, my parents packed up the family. We moved to San Jose, California.
About five blocks from our new home was a large city park, known locally as the Rose Garden. It was a beautiful place .
The public memorial services for Pat Tillman, San Jose native, the ex-Arizona Cardinals football player, Army Ranger, killed in April combat in Afghanistan, were held in this same Rose Garden.
Steve White, a Navy Seal, who had know him while both were in Iraq, spoke of Tillman. He was “a remarkable man,” White recalled. “When a little voice in your head tells you not to do the easiest thing, but the right thing, that’s Pat.... 1976 – 2004: that one little dash in there represents a (whole) life.” White added, “how do we spend our ‘dash’?”1
2000 – 2004. I ask of you graduates now, about these past four years, in a way no less solemn, “how did you spend your ‘dash’ – the years here?”
Those of you who know me have often heard me tell you of Augustine, who read a book when he was 19 years old, a book of Cicero, now lost. This book changed Augustine’s life and hence the world.
You have likewise heard me speak of Plato as a young man not much older than you are right now. He followed the execution of Socrates. It too changed his life forever and, because he wrote of it, he changed the lives of every person who, since then, has thought of the higher things.
I have remind you that you do not have to be present at such dramatic events to experience them in your own souls. For this latter, you do have to read, to reflect.
The youngest apostle, John, when he finished his account of the life and death of Christ, added, almost in exasperation, but certainly in wonder, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25).
You are here to experience, to live these very events of Socrates, Christ, Augustine, and others in your own souls by reading the works in which they are preserved for us, the reading of which itself constitutes our culture, the fabric of what it means to wonder about what is.
Each year, the senior graduating class at Georgetown awards the Bunn Medal for teaching to a member of the faculty. A professor can receive no higher, or more humbling, honor than that of the appreciation of students he has taught. He is aware, as I am, of all the things that he did not get around to having them read, re-read, and think about.
A student I had in several classes graduated two years ago. On her finishing the reading of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, she wrote: “Hello, I finished the Narnia Chronicles the other week and thought of you. The last book has so much Plato in it, especially at the end.... When I read the last paragraph, I had to read it again and again. Then I just sat there in the park, smiling. It was a good end, or should I say, beginning? I will have to go back to these Chronicles soon.” No professor could ask more of a student.
This e-mail incited me to re-read Narnia. In the fifth volume, The Horse and His Boy, at the happy ending of this adventure, after many battles, during the celebration feast, the “fiddles” began. The poets sang “the lay of Fair Olvin and how he fought the Giant ... and won the Lady Liln for his bride.”
What follows is what I want you to remember. “When it (the tale) was over, they wished it was going to begin again.... They had all, except Aravis and Cor, heard it many times but they all wanted (to hear) it again, the tale of (how they) had first come into Narnia.”2
2000 - 2004. In years to come, when you look back on these years, you will tell and re-tell how you spent your “dash.” You will recount the tales of your time here, what you read, or, if you are humble, of what you neglected to read, of what you learned, of how you lived.
You will, hopefully, tell those who listen whether you did the “easiest” thing or the “right” thing. You will recall those books and moments that change lives even in obscure places such as San Jose in California, Athens in Greece, or Tagaste in Africa, where Augustine, younger than most of you are now, read Cicero and decided to be a philosopher.
You will recall, if you read them, the dialogues on the death of Socrates.
You will wonder about the many books not written by the Apostle John. These and the tales of Narnia, with so many others you will want to hear again and again.
It is not too late to make up what you neglected. You must continue to allow your souls to be moved by what you learned here beneath the lofty Healy Towers, between the Second Millennium’s beginning and the Year Two Thousand and Four. On this your graduation, I hope that you long for what you suspect you missed, for what you still need time to comprehend. You now wonder more pointedly about what is, about the truth of things. This is why you have been here and why you must now leave us. My thanks, congratulations, and blessings to each of you.