The commencement speech President Obama should have delivered at Notre Dame

By Laurie Higgins, DSA Director –Illinois Family Institute

I can think of no more fitting way to conclude the school year than with excerpts from the retirement speech delivered by retiring Glenbrook North High School social studies teacher, James McPherrin, who is retiring after 33 years of teaching.

The words he expressed put to shame countless commencement speeches by celebrities who have little to offer students other than pedestrian cliches. It would behoove administrators, faculty, and students to hear Mr. McPherrin’s speech at the start and end of every school year.

Mr. McPherrin offers wisdom and erudition through eloquent prose that points those who have ears to hear toward truth:

St. Thomas More, the intrepid 16th century chancellor to King Henry VIII of England, once said, “When statesmen forsake their own private consciences for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.” Now, I would suggest that the very same quotation might be tailored so as to apply directly to teachers. It would read, “When teachers forsake their own private consciences for the sake of their public school duties, they lead their students by a short route to chaos.”

Thomas More was among the sterling individuals in the western intellectual tradition who understood well the necessary relationship between the natural law and the human law, and that circumstances often challenge us to acknowledge the rational demands the former places upon the latter. More, as we know, would later sacrifice his very life in defense of that compelling idea. In essence, dear colleagues, please consider that our cardinal duty as instructors of the young is to shepherd them in their journey towards truth.

Whether it be European History, English Lit, Calc, Phys Ed, or Music, our task is to foster in students a love for and desire to acknowledge what is true. If such a premise does not inspire our efforts, then I’m afraid they might well be for naught. Make it your purpose to ignite the element of intellectual longing that exists in all young people; that desire to know, that desire to bring order out of chaos. Give them that education to which the English writer, G.K. Chesterton, alluded, when he said, “Many are schooled, but few are educated.” There is a difference, and it would behoove us all to acknowledge it openly.

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1 Comment

  1. Along with humor and engaging audiences, it’s a challenge to offer a diverse audience a message that will resonate and leave them with gifts for their journey ahead.

    Here’s an example of a storied approach to this challenge. A collage of stories is used to offer students three gifts for their journey (judgment, compassion, and mercy).


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