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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

“The Best and the Brightest” (Phi Kappa Phi convocation speech)

1983 Phil Kappa Phi Honors Convocation (June 10, l983)

Central Washington University

President Garrity, Vice-President Harrington, Distinguished Dean and Esteemed Colleagues:

IN THE EARLY 1970’s PULITZER PRIZE WINNING JOURNALIST DAVID HALBERSTAM WROTE A BEST SELLING BOOK ON THE KENNEDY AND JOHNSON ADMINISTRATIONS CALLED THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST (RANDOM HOUSE). IT’S an important and FASCINATING BOOK BUT THE REASON I MENTION IT IS NOT BECAUSE OF ITS CONTENTS BUT BECAUSE OF IT’S TITLE – THE,BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST. I MENTION, IT BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT YOU ARE – “THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST”. IN AN AGE OF RAMPANT EGALITARIANISM YOU HAVE RESISTED THE PRESSURE TO BE MEDIOCRE, AND YOU HAVE FOUGHT AND WORKED TO EXCEL AND YOU HAVE DISCIPLINED YOURSELF TO BE THE BEST YOU CAN BE.

THE BEST YOU CAN BE IS THE BEST THIS STATE AND NATION CAN PRODUCE. MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT. THERE ARE ONLY 5 PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES IN WASHINGTON STATE SO WHEN YOU’RE IN THE FRONT RANKS OF THOSE UNIVERSITY STUDENTS YOU ARE THE “BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST” WHICH THIS STATE CAN EDUCATE. THE CITIZENS OF WASHINGTON ARE NOW SPENDING ROUGHLY 30 MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR AT CENTRAL WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY TO PRODUCE EDUCATED LEADERS FOR THE FUTURE.

YOU ARE THE PEOPLE TO WHOM EACH TAXPAYER CAN POINT AND BE ASSURED THAT HE IS RECEIVING AN EXCELLENT RETURN ON THE STATE’S INVESTMENT IN HIGHER EDUCATION. YOU ARE THE BLUE CHIP STOCK OF THE HIGHER EDUCATION INVESTMENT DOLLAR.

YOU ARE NOT ONLY THE “BEST AND THE-BRIGHTEST” WHICH STATE AND FEDERAL FUNDING CAN UNDERWRITE, YOU ARE ALSO THE “BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST” YOUR PARTICULAR COMMUNITY CAN ASSIST TO BECOME EDUCATED. WHEN YOU WERE IN THE K THROUGH 12 PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM, THE TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS AND PARENT ASSOCIATION NO DOUBT BEGAN TO PERCEIVE YOUR ABILITY TO EXCEL ACADEMICALLY. THEY BEGAN TO LOOK TO YOU FOR LEADERSHIP AND STUDENT DIRECTION. TWO WEEKS AGO A NUMBER OF INTERESTED AND COMMITTED COMMUNITY RESIDENTS HOSTED A SMALL LUNCHEON FOR THE 20 OUTSTANDING ACADEMIC LEADERS OF ELLENSBURG HIGH SCHOOL. SO BEFORE THEY GET TO A UNIVERSITY, THESE YOUNG SCHOLARS ARE TAGGED AS BEING ACADEMICALLY “THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST” THE ELLENSBURG SCHOOL DISTRICT AND THE COMMUNITY OF ELLENSBURG WILL PRODUCE THIS YEAR. AND LET ME JUST TIE ELLENSBURG TO YOU FOLKS. IF YOU WERE A RECIPIENT OF A CENTRAL INVESTMENT FUND SCHOLARSHIP THEN ELLENSBURG HAS A RIGHT TO CLAIM YOU FOR ITSELF, AS WELL, BECAUSE THE CIF WAS ORGANIZED SEVERAL YEARS AGO BY A MEMBER OF THE ELLENSBURG SCHOOL BOARD TO ENABLE THE STATE’S “BEST AND BRIGHTEST” TO STUDY AT CENTRAL.

BUT, YOU’RE NOT ONLY THE “BEST AND BRIGHTEST” THE STATE AND THE COMMUNITY CAN DEVELOP, YOU ARE ALSO THE “BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST” YOUR PARENTS CAN PRODUCE. NOW I DON’T MEAN YOU’RE THE SMARTEST SIBLING IN YOUR FAMILY. WHAT I’M SAYING IS THAT YOUR PARENTS INVESTED A GREAT DEAL OF THEIR TIME, ENERGY AND MONEY IN GIVING YOU OPPORTUNITIES AND ENCOURAGEMENT TO EXCEL ACADEMICALLY AND BECOME A BUDDING RENAISSANCE PERSON, A MULTI-TALENTED INDIVIDUAL. AS A PARENT OF GIFTED CHILDREN I HAVE AN AFFINITY WITH YOUR PARENTS AS I SEE OUR FAMILY RESOURCES MORE AND MORE BEING DIVERTED TO, AND ABSORBED BY, THE EDUCATION AND ENLIGHTENMENT OF OUR TWO YOUNG DAUGHTERS. SOLOMON, THE WISEST AND GREATEST KING TO RULE ISRAEL WROTE:

“I was a boy in my Father’s house, still tender, and an only child of my mother’s, My Father (King David) taught me and said, ‘Wisdom is supreme, therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you, Embrace her, and she will honor you.'”
Proverbs 4:3, 7-8

FINALLY, AND PERHAPS MOST IMPORTANTLY FOR US THIS AFTERNOON IS THE FACT THAT YOU ARE “THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST” WHICH CENTRAL WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY CAN DEVELOP. ONE OF THE ORIGINAL MODELS FOR THE UNIVERSITIES OF THE WORLD WAS THE ACADEMY OF PLATO WHICH, IN TURN, BRED THE LYCEUM OF ARISTOTLE. IT IS MY BELIEF THAT A LARGE PART OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION AND ALL OF THE FINE UNIVERSITIES OF THE WORLD ARE ARISTOTELIAN IN BASE BECAUSE ARISTOTLE TAUGHT, IN ESSENCE, THAT ALL KNOWLEDGE IS UNIVERSAL. THAT IS, IF WE LEARN OF ONE MAN WE LEARN OF ALL MEN BECAUSE A PARTICULAR BODY OF TRUTH LEADS TO A UNIVERSAL BODY OF TRUTH.

FURTHERMORE, ALL KNOWLEDGE FITS INTO A UNIFIED WHOLE – THERE IS NOTHING OUT OF PLACE, NOTHING DISORDERLY IN TRUE KNOWLEDGE. ARISTOTLE EPITOMIZED THE ANCIENT GREEK QUALITY OF AN IRREPRESSIBLE PASSION AND COMMITTMENT TO THE EXERCISE OF REASON AND AN INCREDIBLE CURIOSITY TO INVESTIGATE AND KNOW AND UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING. AND THE UNIVERSITY IN GENERAL, AND CENTRAL IN PARTICULAR, IS NOTHING IF IT IS NOT THE HOME AND REFUGE OF LEGITIMATE FREE INQUIRY AND UNFETTERED CURIOSITY. IT IS IN THIS ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH YOU HAVE TRIUMPHED AND DISTINGUISHED YOURSELVES. THE FUTURE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION AND AMERICAN SOCIETY AS WE KNOW IT, TRULY BELONGS, IN LARGE PART, TO YOU, YOUNG SCHOLARS, IN THIS ROOM THIS AFTERNOON.

CHARLES MALIK, PAST PRESIDENT OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE UNITED NATIONS, HIMSELF A PROFOUND THINKER, AND ONE OF THE WORLD’S GREAT CITIZENS HAS Recently WRITTEN:
This great Western institution, the university, dominates the world today more than any other in¬stitution: more than the church, more than the government, more than all other institutions. The universities, directly and indirectly, dominate the world. (A Christian Critique of the University)

AND YOU, MY ESTEEMED COLLEAGUES, HAVE ACADEMICALLY DOMINATED YOUR TIME AT THIS FINE UNIVERSITY. YOU ARE TO BE PRAISED AND HONORED FOR YOUR ARE, INDEED, OUR “REST AND BRIGHTEST.”

ALLOW ME TO CONCLUDE WITH THE CUSTOMARY CHARGE. HAVE YOU WONDERED WHY THE WORLD HAS LOOKED TO THE WEST FOR TWO THOUSAND YEARS TO EDUCATE ITS LEADERS? HAVE YOU ASKED WHY NON-WESTERN SCHOLARS COME TO WESTERN UNIVERSITIES TO LEARN ABOUT THEIR OWN CULTURE, THEIR OWN LANGUAGE, THEIR OWN PEOPLE? CAN IT BE THAT WESTERN CIVILIZATION HAS BEEN CHARACTERIZED BY AN UNQUENCHABLE CURIOSITY TO KNOW ABOUT EVERY ASPECT OF EVERY THING. WE IN THE WEST ARE MORE INTERESTED IN KNOWING THE ESSENCE AND THE MEANING OF ANY SUBJECT IN GREATER DETAIL WITH A GREATER REGARD FOR TRUE ANALYSIS THAN ANY OTHER PEOPLE OF THE WORLD. IN SHORT, EXCEPT FOR A QUALIFICATION OR TWO, WESTERN CIVILIZATION CAN BE CHARACTERIZED BY A FEARLESSNESS OF, AND AN OPENNESS TO, THE QUEST FOR TRUTH. AND TO THE EXTENT THAT WE AS A SOCIETY ARE AFRAID TO SEARCH FOR, AND FIGHT FOR, THE TRUTH, TO THAT EXTENT WE BECOME UNCIVILIZED.

MY CHARGE TO YOU IS THIS – BE VALIENT FOR TRUTH IN WHATEVER FIELD OF ENDEAVOR YOUR SCHOLARSHIP TAKES YOU — BE IT THE ARENA OF THE ACADEMY, OF THE MARKET PLACE, OF CIVIL AFFAIRS, OR OF THE CHURCH. IF MEMBERSHIP IN PHI KAPPA PHI IS TO BE MEANINGFUL FOR YOU IT SHOULD MEAN YOUR BEING A WARRIOR FOR WHAT YOU PERCEIVE TO BE TRUE.

AFTER ALL, YOU ARE “THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST”. OUR CIVILIZATION DEPENDS ON YOU.

THANK YOU.

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