Thursday, September 07, 2006
The Educated Citizen
JFK speaks at the 90th Anniversary Convocation of Vanderbilt University:
If there is one unchanging theme that runs throughout these separate stories, it is that everything changes but change itself. We live in an age of movement and change, both evolutionary and revolutionary, both good and evil. And in such an age a university has a special obligation to hold fast to the best of the past and move fast with the best of the future.
The essence of Vanderbilt is still learning. The essence of its outlook is still liberty. And liberty and learning will be and must be the touchstones of Vanderbilt University and of any free University in this country or the world. I say two touchstones, yet they are almost inseparable, inseparable if not indistinguishable. For liberty without learning is always in peril, and learning without liberty is always in vain …
This nation is now engaged in a continuing debate about the rights of a portion of its citizens. That will go on, and those rights will expand until the standard first forged by the nation's Founders has been reached and all Americans enjoy equal opportunity and liberty under law.
But this nation was not founded solely on the principle of citizen-rights. Equally important, though too-often not discussed, is the citizen's responsibility. For our privileges can be no greater than our obligations. The protection of our rights can endure no longer when the performance of our responsibilities each can be neglected only at the peril of the other.
I speak to you today, therefore, not of your rights as Americans, but of your responsibilities. They are many in number and different in nature. They do not rest with equal weight upon the shoulders of all. Equality of opportunity does not mean equality of responsibility. All Americans must be responsible citizens, but some must be more responsible than others by virtue of their public or their private position, their role in the family or community, their prospects for the future, or their legacy from the past. Increased responsibility goes with increased ability. For those to whom much is given, much is required.
… I speak, in particular, therefore, of the responsibility of the educated citizen, including the students, the faculty, and the alumni of this great institution. The creation and maintenance of Vanderbilt University, like that of all great universities, has required considerable effort and expenditure, and I cannot believe that all of this was undertaken merely to give this school's graduates an economic advantage in the life struggle.
"Every man sent out from a university," said Professor Woodrow Wilson, "Every man sent out from a university should be a man of his nation as well as a man of his time." You have responsibilities, in short, to use your talents for the benefit of the society which helped develop those talents. You must decide, as Goethe put it, whether you will be an anvil or a hammer, whether you will give to the world in which you were reared and educated the broadest possible benefits of that education.
Of the many special obligations incumbent upon an educated citizen, I would cite three as outstanding: Your obligation to the pursuit of learning; your obligation to serve the public; your obligation to uphold the law. If the pursuit of learning is not defended by the educated citizen, it will not be defended at all.
For there will always be those who scoff at intellectuals, who cry out against research, who seek to limit our educational system. Modern cynics and skeptics see no more reason for landing a man on the moon -- which we shall do -- than the cynics and skeptics of half a millennium ago saw for the discovery of this country. They see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.
But the educated citizen knows how much more there is to know. He knows that knowledge is power -- more so today than ever before. He knows that only an educated and informed people will be a free people; that the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all; and that if we can, as Jefferson put it, "enlighten the people generally," "tyranny and the oppressions of mind and body will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day." And, therefore, the educated citizen has a special obligation to encourage the pursuit of learning, to promote exploration of the unknown, to preserve the freedom of inquiry, to support the advancement of research, and to assist at every level of government the improvement of education for all Americans -- from grade school to graduate school.
read and/or listen to the rest here.
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