A look into the past and well wishes for the future.
Dear Alumni and friends,
Welcome to May 2016. As you read this, we are just past Shimer’s graduation, an event filled with a bittersweet joy. As with all graduations, the events of April 30 hovered at the cusp of past and future, in an always already nostalgic moment that demands that we stop, just for a moment, and reflect. We expressed our gratitude for all that has been, and our commitments to one another and to our imagined future.
The words Ryan Lenau and Tess Doubet King, our student speakers, shared with us pointed backwards to their experiences as Shimer students and forwards toward their futures beyond Shimer itself. They spoke of the impact of faculty and staff, and offered reflections that built on specific experiences to construct guidelines for living beyond those years. Their words moved me – and reminded me that while graduations are ritual moments of transformation, much of what we hear at such moments refers more widely to the many moments of change we experience across a life time. Our futures are always built on the cusp we call now. While we come at those moments in very different ways, as Tess and Ryan came to Shimer along different pathways, like them, we come to our moments of change as parts of chosen communities that have shaped us and that we shape in profound ways.
Father Dennis Holtschneider, likewise, pointed toward past and future, by reflecting on the ways Theodore Parker’s words “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” are rooted in the 19th century but have reverberated across time to shape today’s vision of the future. As he asked each of us to reflect on both individual and communitarian aspirations, Father Dennis also asked us how we will live now and into the future. He reminded us that, while the movement toward justice is not always a motion forward – and pointed to instances where we truly lose momentum or move backward – engagement in the questions and actions of justice is something we must choose. To do so, we must, as citizens and Shimerians, ask questions and actively bend the arc of our moral universe toward justice.
By pointing to history and to hope, we acknowledge the ongoing importance of both change and stability, and thus of Shimer’s heritage of ongoing innovation. This graduation was uncanny – haunted by the ghosts of Frances Wood Shimer and Cinderella Gregory, of Aristotle and DuBois, of interlocutors living and dead. In that uncanny hope lies our future, the future we make together.
Who would have imagined, more than 150 years ago, a Shimer somewhere other than Mount Carroll? A Shimer on line discussion? A Shimer that was co-educational? A Shimer in Oxford? A Shimer website? A Shimer octagonal table?
We build on our imagination and our hope, on the foundations of our shared discourse and our commitment to the life of the mind lived fully in the world in which we are rooted. And, we do so as Shimerians – both alumni and friends – today, tomorrow and into the unimaginable future.
Shortly before graduation, I had several conversations about George Orwell’s 1984. When I first read that book in the late 1960s, 1984 seemed a distant, unimaginable future. Now, of course, 1984 seems to refer to a long lost distant past. Read for one of this year’s comprehensive examinations, Orwell’s novel is both a pathway into history – and Orwell’s imagination – and, given our commitment to critically important texts, enabling us to wrestle in more adequate ways with the challenges of today – also a lens for making sense of this moment – in our culture, on our planet, and in our lives.
Shimerians, all, we stand at the cusp of past and future, celebrating a new cohort of alumni and anticipating all that they will do, with us, into tomorrow.