Last Sunday, we celebrated the bright young faces of our young people who received a diploma—a formal certification of having reached an important goal in life. For all the changes we see in the world, there is a sense in which so many things remain the same.
On 24 May 1992, some two decades ago, Parade Magazine published Elie Wiesel commencement address for graduates entering an uncertain world—as we all did. What Wiesel said is no less important today. He was imprisoned in Auschwitz and Buchenwald—Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Most of his family members died there. The theme of his address was the dangers of fanaticism. He suggests that most of the significant problems in our time are rooted in fanaticism. Here are the closing paragraphs of his address.
I know: You have been tested during your years in school, more than once. But the real tests are still ahead of you. How will you deal with your own or other people’s hunger, homelessness, sexual or gender discrimination, and community antagonisms?As something of a teacher, I want all of us, young and old, to be reminded of the importance of continuing education in life, for life. For all the inadequacies of education alone to bring meaning and fulfillment to life, it does occupy an important place.
The world outside is not waiting to welcome you with open arms. The economic climate is bad; the psychological one is worse. You wonder, will you find jobs? Allies? Friends? I pray to our Father in heaven to answer ‘yes’ to all these questions.
But should you encounter temporary disappointments, I also pray: Do not make someone else pay the price for your pain. Do not see in someone else a scapegoat for your difficulties. Only a fanatic does that – not you, for you have learned to reject fanaticism. You know that fanaticism leads to hatred, and hatred is both destructive and self-destructive.
I speak to you as a teacher and a student—one is both, always. I also speak to you as a witness.
I speak to you, for I do not want my past to become your future.
My friend, Tom Butts, once told me about one year while he was in high school, during the graduation exercises, a girl received her high school diploma and turned around and faced the audience, raised her arms and shouted: “Educated, by God!” If she thought she was educated with a diploma from a rural high school, she really was ignorant! Tom said he often wondered what happened to this over-excited graduate. Probably not much! Our education ought never stop. There is no excuse for being ignorant in today’s world. If you are going to be an effective citizen, with opinions worthy of being heard, then there is a certain amount of factual knowledge that you need. What you think is not nearly as important as what is true.
Become as well-educated as you can, and stay educated by continuing to study and think. We love our graduates and now they stand beside us in a world that needs a little enlightenment.