A. Barlett Giamatti, Yale University president, at Yale:
What concerns me most today is the way we have disconnected ideas from power in America and created for ouseleves thoughtful citizens who disdain politics and politicians when more than ever we need to value politics and what politicians do; when more than ever we need to recognize that the calling to public life is one of the highest callings a society can make. . . .
If a society assumes its politicans are venal, stupid or self-serving, it will attract to its public life as an ongoing self-fulling prophecy the greedy, the knavish and the dim. If . . . a cultrue like ours has wrongly persuaded itself that power is reallyu mere force, private life simply the exercise of force, then that culture will attract to leadership who misunderstand power and who therefore cannot possibly use it correctly or well. How power is conceived in a society has the most to do withn determining who is attracted to positions of power.
A healthy society must never wish to have as its public servants people who only hunger to be in public life, who, thinking power is a nature force, believe they will become immortal if they can tap into its sheer, natural flow. The best way to avoid such people is to avoid such people is to avoid such an idea of power.
Far better to think historically, to remember the lessons of the past. Thus, far better to conceive of power as consisting in part of the knowledge of when not to use all the power you have. Far better to be one who knows that if you reserve the power not to use all your power, you will lead others far more successfully and well.
William Styron, novelist, at Duke Unsiversity:
I did not pick Duke as my institution of higher learning; Duke was picked for me by the U.S. government, when in 1943 the Marine Corps instituted its college training program. This was during the height of World War II, and of that hyperactive military atmosphere I have only a most unromantic remembrance. It certainly wasn't like college is supposed to be. I was a terrible student, although I was fortunate enough to discover the delights of reading and the treasures of Duke's great library. I embarked on an almost druken reading bout -- one so omnivorous and single-minded, although so exclusively literary, that I was nearly expelled and shipped to the Pacific as a result of being apprehended in the act of reading Andre Gide in physics class. My derelictions went on and on. Consequently, I may be the only Duke graduate who failed a science course four times in a row. 'our social life also left much to be desired. None of us Marines and sailors had any money to spend on frivolities. And there were other impediments. For instance, Duke girls were actually compelled to wear white gloves while on dates off-campus. I'll never really forget the purity of those intimidating white gloves, which usually, for some reason, went up the elbows and, quite literally, kept at arm's length all of our desires, laden with such impurity. It was a rotten time for romance, those 1940s. At any rate, I somehow muddled through and went off to active duty, trailing clouds of D's and C-minuses. . . .
One of the greatest of all poets, William Butler Yeats, had a profound concern for his native Ireland, which is now enduring so much agony. At an earlier moment during his country's troubles, he wrote: "The new Ireland, overwhelmed by responsibility, begins to long for psychological truths." I think that much the same can be said for America at this uncertain passage in its history. Perhaps it is at just such a moment -- overwhelmed by responsibility, longing for psychological truths -- that a nation becomes the most vulnerable to fear, and falls prey to a terror of witches and demons.
But I should not like to think so.
Loving America as we should, loving it as Yeats loved Ireland -- loving it as I do even, God help me, for its amber waves or grain and its purple mountain majesties, and certainly for the unboring and unpredictable and marvelous variety of life that streches from sea to shining sea -- loving it so much, I say we should be able to love it best when we refuse to allow reasonless fear to compromise our peace, and the peace of others.
Felix G. Rohatyn, senior partner in Lazard Freres investment banking firm, at the Hofstra University School of Business:
Fairness and wealth have to go hand in hand. Without the capacity to create wealth, it is impossible to go to the issue of fairness. The disparities in our society, between classes and races, between Sun Belt and Frost Belt, are deep and getting deeper. Only with sustained economic growth and an active government willing to intervene will these disparities be reduced. Fairness is also not an absolute. But the most hardened conservatives must find conditions in the inner-city ghettos a blight on our society and an indictment of our system. At the same time, realistic liberals have to recognize that government has not, and cannot, solve all the problems of race and poverty. Only a growing private sector economy can do that, provided government is not afraid of targeting some of the growth.
A conservative laissez faire philosophy is the normal reaction to the failed performance of liberalism at home and the eroding power and prestige of the United States abroad. The discrediting of liberalism, at least partly deserved, is a danger to our society. Yet liberalism will not become a needed counterweight to current trends until it comes back to the real world, the bread and butter world of jobs and growth, of urban blight and energy independence, of the realistic need for American power in a chaotic world; until it returns to the notion that democracy requires equality of opportunity, but not an egalitarianism resolutely blind to the question of merit. Gay rights and national health insurance may be important to some. But they are not the country's first priority. It is liberalism's fascination with secondary issues that has created the reaction which now sees the Moral Majority intimidating politicians and advertisers, and the Congress trying to determine the beginning of life.
Michael I. Sovern, Columbia University president, at Columbia:
If ignorance is the beginning of wisdom, we are beginning to be wise. If the strong know their weaknesses, we are beginning to be strong. We are learning about our limitations -- nature is not subject to infinite manipulation by man; we cannot influence other people as much as we thought we could; we cannot even shape ourselves as much as we would like.
Understanding these limitations is part of the essence of leadership. As leaders, you must carry your share of the burden of leading from illusion to reality without losing your way in disillusion and abandoning the journey in cynicism.
These are testing days. Our national government makes cynicism seductive as it maintains subsidies for tobacco growers while proposing budget rescissions for cancer researchers; laments our poor productivity and eliminates the National Science Foundation's program for training science and engineers; continues cost-of-living increases to its retired federal employees but denies them to students on financial aid. But we err if we assume that these are the works of malevolence.
Ironically, an administration that would subscribe to the proposition that solutions are the chief cause of problems is offering solutions at a rate that may well exceed even the early days of the New Deal. Inevitably, they are making mistakes.
Allan Shivers, former governor of Texas, at the University of Texas at Austin:
It is your destiny to take your places in a civilization where change has been telescoped at such a dizzying pace that the world you wake up in every morning is a dramatically different world from the one you woke up in the day before. Change is coming upon us so rapidly that we cannot even predict what form it will take -- much less what its consequences will be. Areas of knowledge and technology are changing so fast that many of you are going to have to go back to school once, twice or even three times during your careers just to stay current with the state of the art.
It's challenging, it's exciting and it's a little terrifying. Some of you may feel like that student in a Shakespeare course I heard about recently. The class had just finished reading "Hamlet," and a debate immediately ensued between the professor, on one hand, and some of the students, on the other. The students insisted that Hamlet was insane -- had to be insane to behave in such an irrational way as he had. The professor insisted that Hamlet was perfectly sane and was behaving in a manner entirely consistent with the circumstances and with the age in which he lived.
But the professor was unable to convince the students, and the debate raged on.
Finally, as a last desperation measure, the professor said, "Look.The only way I can explain it to you is to ask you to put yourselves in Hamlet's shoes. Just imagine that you are Hamlet. You've just come home from college. What do you find?Your father's been murdered. Your uncle has usurped your throne. Your mother's living with your uncle. And your girlfriend is insane. Now the question is, what would you do?"
After a pause, a hand went up in the back of the room. The professor pointed to the young man who had raised his hand and asked, "Yes sir, what would you do?"
And the young man replied, "Go back for a master's?"