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New College Class of 1989 Commencement address


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New College Class of 1989 Commencement address
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Commencement address by Anita L. Allen, Ph.D., J.D. Associate Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center for New College of The University of South Florida, Sarasota, Florida, May 26, 1989
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Allen, Anita L.
New College of Florida
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Sarasota, Fla.
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History -- New College (Sarasota, Fla.)
Graduation (School)
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
Baccalaureate addresses
Commencement address
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United States -- Florida -- Sarasota


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Fourteen page commencement address.
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New College of Florida
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New College of Florida
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Commencement Address By Anita L. Allen, Ph.D., J.D. Associate Professor of Law Georgetown University Law Center For New College of The University of South Florida Sarasota, Florida May 26, 1989


Introduction Let me thank New College for inviting me to speak. I'm not sure I'm sufficiently distinguished for the honor of addressing this audience. I think of commencement speeches as the exclusive province of political leaders, captains of industry, aged geniuses, and recipients of the Pulitzer Prize. But then again, Kermit the Frog was once Class Day speaker at Harvard. I've got a few years on Kermit. I'm neither as green, nor as wet behind the ears as he. Indeed, I am barely green at all anymore when it comes to higher education. Since high school, except for one year spent at a Wall Street law firm, and another at the National Endowment for the Humanities, colleges and universities have been my life. In addition to New College, I have been a student or teacher at a diverse group of public and private institutions. New College is Special I am often asked how New College compares to the other schools with which I have been affiliated. The answer I give is


invariably the same. New College is someplace special. Of course, I must confess an emotional bias. I have fond memories of my New College teachers, many of whom are still here. New College is where I met my husband, Paul Castellitto. It is where I made dear friends, alumni like David Smith and Dan Raff who have also pursued academic careers, teaching at Williams College and the Harvard Business School. But New College is someplace special, even when measured by objective standards. When I was in law school I used to hear a lot about the Harvard mystique. For me, it did not compare to the New College mystique. Individuality, intimacy and innovation are major parts of what New College connotes. Self-conscious preoccupation with the goals and purposes of education is also a part of it. Less obviously, a healthy aura of vulnerability is part of the New College mystique. Throughout its short history, the College has never been able to take its own viability for granted. Some liberal arts colleges survive automatically, carried along by 2


reputation and endowment. But New College survives breathlessly, animated by the ongoing labors and generosity of its students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni and friends. New College is a Bargain The Provost suggested that I speak to you about the ways in which my experiences at the College relate to what I do now. Well, I did have a few experiences at New College that I'm not embarrassed to talk about in mixed company. I studied philosophy, history, art, literature and European languages. I participated in a student-taught seminars series. I wrote a senior thesis about the "linguistic turn" in 20th century philosophy. And I learned to take responsibility for my own education. The "contract system" implemented while I was a student at the College contributed to my unlikely success. Under the contract system, students ideally bargain with faculty members about what they will accomplish each term. Students may choose coursework, tutorials, or independent study. Faculty ideally 3


encourage innovation. They use their bargaining powers to encourage students to choose an appropriately sequenced and balanced program. Students are evaluated on the basis of whether they live up to their agreements. The "contracts" I signed each term stood as a reminder that my education was up to me, but that I could benefit from guidance and collaboration. I have heard from students and faculty that the "contract system" is becoming something of a fossil. If, indeed, it is beyond revitalization, I hope the College will explore other methods of encouraging students to see education as a bargain. Not a bargain simply in cost/benefit or dollar-and-cents terms, though New College is certainly that. But a bargain in the sense of an undertaking: a commitment to one's self and one's teachers to think hard about what is worth knowing and doing, and then to learn and to act. The Ethic of Detachment Today, I teach law and legal philosophy at Georgetown, the 4


nation's largest law school. In addition, I write and lecture about legal rights and public policy concerning topics such as, abortion, AIDS testing, and personal privacy. To my work I bring both the skills and discipline that I acquired at New College. But rather than focus on what I did at the College, I would like to call attention to what I did not do. I'm ashamed to say that, when I was at the College, I made no effort to keep up with what was going on in the world around me. I fell prey to a bent of mind I will term the "ethic of detachment." When I arrived at New College in 1970, the ethic of detachment was pervasive on campus. On the one hand, the students of my day struggled against the barriers that threatened to distance us from others within the New College community. Black and white, Christian and Jew, rich and poor, straight and gay--we strove to forge meaningful connections with all of our peers. Students formed experimental communes and flocked to courses on humanistic psychology. Of these aspirations, I remain proud. 5


On the other hand, many students at the College fortified barriers that separated the College from the rest of the world. We isolated ourselves. We felt it was a virtue to be cut off from the real world of politics and popular culture. Some o f us forgot our own families. We gloried in feeling wiser, more intense, and more original than outsiders. We erected an ivory tower so tall, we looked down on all the other ivory towers. In fairness, I should emphasize that some of my classmates did not fall prey to the ethic of detachment. In fact, many were exceptionally well-informed and involved. Many immersed themselves in the community. They donated time to nursing homes, jail inmates, churches, and political campaigns. They fought for peace, racial equality and women's rights, in much the same way that recent New College students have fought vigorously on behalf of the environment. Perhaps it is understandable that many young people of my generation coped with the world by ignoring it. Take my case. I carne to New College in September 1970, a 17-year-old military 6


brat from Fort Benning, near Columbus, Georgia. I was in search of a utopian community of liberal intellectuals. I wanted to get away from racism and from the terrifying reminders at horne that my father was a soldier in Vietnam. The week I arrived at this College, the pages of The New York Times reflected a world of enormous unrest and complexity. North Vietnam returned to the Paris peace talks, still demanding that the U.S. withdraw from the South. The McGovern-Hatfield amendment to end the war in Indochina by the end of 1971 was defeated in the U.S. Senate by a comfortable margin. A man was killed when student radicals bombed an army-supported mathematics research lab at the University of Wisconsin. With eerie bravado, the Vice President of the United States, Spiro Agnew, told an audience of veterans that "the American people would choose the policeman's truncheon over the anarchist's bomb." Under court orders, in 200 southern school districts, a quarter million black children attended school with whites for the first time. In the meantime, white parents staged sit-ins, 7


and white school superintendents quit their posts in droves. Philadelphia police raided the headquarters of the Black Panther movement. A Black Panther was convicted of murder in New Haven. The Congress on Racial Equality, a vocal black civil rights group, announced that it had given up on racial integration. The Arab-Israeli conflict escalated, as Israel protested Arab missiles along the Suez Canal. In a single morning, terrorists hi-jacked four separate passenger planes bound for New York. Is it any wonder that I, like many of my classmates, found comfort in detachment from that outside world? Look Outward The United States is, in many ways, a more peaceful place than it was in the early 1970s. But a new stew is simmering in the old kettle. Where once there was Watergate, now there is the Iran Contra affair; where once there were fears of inflation, now there is foreign debt and budget deficit; where once there was Vietnam, now there is Nicaragua; where once there was racial discrimination, now there is senseless, racially motivated 8


violence. Nonetheless, I would encourage the present generation of New College students to reject the extreme ethic of detachment. I know it is very difficult to be outward looking in a world such as this, at this time of your lives. And it is for that reason that the members of this graduating class who have already had an impact beyond the boundaries of self and college deserve special congratulations. The rewards of involvement are great. To the degree you are outward-looking, you'll be that much better educated, whatever life-style you choose to lead. And you'll make better choices. You can't choose the life that prudence would require, if you don't know the range of choices the world has to offer. A Moral Choice And consider this: you can't choose the life morality would require, if you don't first consider what goals are worth choosing. I have discovered that many law students have never 9


considered how their own moralities bear upon their choices of careers. As if their lives were a Sunday brunch buffet, they assume that it is all the same on the career smorgasbord: waffles, bagels, pancakes, doctor, lawyer, software engineer. But I have also discovered that many young lawyers quickly come to see that it is not all the same; that what a person accomplishes in the world, and how she accomplishes it, matters. It matters that we become well-paid, but mediocre lawyers, when we could have maximized our talents and become outstanding science teachers. And whatever we do, it matters that we do it for Ivan Boesky or when we could have done it for the Environmental Defense Fund. The world we inherit will be only as good as we are good. Novo Collegians, armed with special talents and opportunities, have special obligations. Prepared for the Future To the graduates, about to commence dramatically new lives, I can offer a measure of reassurance, in a spirit of excitement. 10


You have little to fear, as you leave for employment or graduate school. Your lively, disciplined intellects will always be productive and your talents in demand. As a graduate of New College, you have little to fear even if, up 'til now, you have embraced the ethic of detachment. But you must be willing soon to affirm the ultimate lesson of your New College experience: that just as passive learning is not fully education, so too passive, detached living is not fully life. On the wings of that discovery, you can soar to higher levels of satisfaction through involvement in family and community than you can perhaps now imagine. Thus, the same New College that may foster ivory tower detachment, also does an excellent job of preparing its students for the world. But preparing New College students is not always an easy job! When I arrived at the College I knew exactly what I wanted to be, and would brook no contradiction. I wanted to be a doctor--and a poet, a novelist, a theologian, a philosopher, a 11


librarian, a mother of two, a ballet dancer, and a femme fatale. My professors had their hands full. I know for a fact that I'm personally responsible for at least half of the gray hairs on Bryan Norton's head. Bryan did for me what New College faculty have always done. In an extraordinary show of patience and personal concern, he took me under his wing. Like the individual attention I was given, the personalized education that New College has given each of you will make all the difference in your new lives. Conclusion Fifteen years ago when I sat where this graduating class now sits, President Richard Nixon was being threatened with impeachment. Police were searching for heiress Patty Hearst. The Alaska pipeline was being praised as a stunning technological marvel. Duke Ellington was being eulogized. Mine was a fascinating, historic era, and yours will prove to be one too. So, look outward. Make involvement, not 12


detachment, your ethic. Undertake to engage--and be engaged by--your world. I wish you, the graduates, the continued success you merit. And I thank you for giving me the opportunity to reflect upon my own past and your future. 13

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