Either Teach, or Learn, or Leave the Place
In May 1963 I gave an address at my high school Commencement ceremony. I was not studious enough to be class valedictorian or salutatorian. They were asked to speak because of their academic honors. But the English teachers sponsored an essay contest to select a third speaker, and somehow my essay was chosen. I had forgotten about the essay since then. My younger sister, Marti, has been sifting through boxes of papers and other stuff from our parents’ home. In one of the boxes she sent me I found the typewritten essay. Reading it over a half-century later I was struck by how much my life’s trajectory has been informed by the thoughts I had then. The only changes I would make were I to give it today would be to use gender-neutral language.
At Education 20/20 we have an ongoing discussion on the meaning and purpose of education. We have started conducting surveys to find out what you and others think education is all about. Reading my yellow-paged essay I realized that my opinions on the topic haven’t changed much in fifty years. So in the spirit of full disclosure and sharing, herewith I offer the commencement address I gave in 1963 at Upper Moreland High School outside Philadelphia.
The Commencement of Education
“Either teach, or learn, or leave the place.” This was the motto inscribed on every window of St. Paul’s, the London school where John Milton began his formal education. As students at Upper Moreland High School we have been taught, we have learned, and now we are ready to leave. Thus many of us who are graduating have wondered why our final high school ceremony should be called Commencement. Certainly it would seem at first sight that it rightfully should be called the Finale which caps twelve years of learning.
However, reflection shows us that the fine education which we have experienced is really a preparation for further learning which will enable us to be of service to others as well as to enrich our own lives. In this sense our Commencement is the beginning of even greater education.
Since our learning, both past and future, is insolubly linked with education, let us examine the marks of an educated person. The first is an affirmative answer to the question, “Can I entertain a new idea?” The educated person studies many different ideas and theories, and he always keeps an open mind toward new ones. He does not become dogmatic and intolerant toward the opinions of people who differ from him. Neither does he instinctively hold every new idea as radical or impractical. The world has progressed through the development and acceptance of new ideas. Therefore, in our future learning we should maintain an open and receptive mind toward new ideas.
The second question to which we as educated people should be able to answer, “Yes,” is, “Can I entertain another person?” In order to entertain another person it is necessary that we be both interesting and understanding. To be interesting we must know what is going on in the world and be able to intelligently analyze and discuss a wide variety of subjects. Hence it is important that we continue our education in the years ahead rather than to consider that our education ends with this memorable graduation ceremony.
To be understanding we must develop an appreciation of others’ viewpoints. This also demands that we learn to respect differences of opinion. It is evident that if we are to entertain another person, we must continue our formal education and also our education in human relations.
Finally, an educated person should be able to entertain himself. Someone has said that, “What a man really is depends upon what he does when he is alone.” If he is bored, he is likely to get into trouble. On the other hand, an educated person has a wide range of interests with which to entertain himself. For example, a student who is interested in history can enjoy reliving great moments in the past. Likewise a person who has a taste for literature can enjoy himself indefinitely with the great authors, both past and present. Education thereby provides each individual with a rich and endless storehouse of enjoyment.
In conclusion we have seen that Commencement is really the beginning of further education which will fully enable us to have a fruitful life by being able to entertain new ideas, other people, and ourselves.