Words and the Future

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A brief excerpt of the commencement address by David Shipley '81, deputy editorial page and op-ed editor of the New York Times

From the Fall 2009 Caller
A while ago, I asked members of the senior class to answer, anonymously, the following: “What is your biggest question about your future?” I then took the answers and ran them through a computer program called Wordle, which creates word clouds. It sizes the words according to how many times they are used. The more frequently a word is used, the bigger it is. This piece of paper is the result. What do we see?
Well, for starters, no misspellings. Thumbs up, English department. “Jail.” A little troubling. I’m sure there’s a good reason. And the rest of it? Let’s ignore “future,” because that was part of the question. But that aside, look at what’s big. “Content” or “con-tent.” A positive either way. “Wonder. Work. Concerned. Life. Choose. Happy. Find. Figure. Matter. Know. Love. Able.”
And notice not just what’s small— Want, Need—but what’s not there at all. “Personal” isn’t there. Nor is “Mine.” “Own.” Possess. Deserve. Status. Due. Win. Entitle.
This is language about others, not about the self. It is language about connection, community, intellectual life, and service. It is language that is purely reflective of the Catlin Gabel ethic. . . .
What you have been taught here isn’t neutral. It has an ethical dimension. For that reason, it’s likely lodged in your head good and tight. And what’s been lodged? What you learn and experience here dies hard. If you keep close that knowledge, if you stay in touch and remind one another of it, then you will be equipped not only to make your own way, but also to repair this fractured world. For many years to come.