Roanoke Alumni Festival: Presidential Banquet with Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel speaks to an alumni banquet at Roanoke College in Virginia. Most of his speech revolves around his exploration of World War II through his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Good War". Audio is spotty.

00:00Copy video clip URL Opening titles. David Gring, President of Roanoke College, starts the ceremony and awards five alumni with the prestigious Roanoke College Medal, with each recipient making a speech. His colleague Frank DeFriece announces members of the college’s Society of 1842.

26:57Copy video clip URL Gring introduces Terkel, praising his work on “The Good War” and citing the influence of the World War II era on many of the college’s alumni.

29:04Copy video clip URL Terkel takes the podium and, like his favorite jazz artists, improvises. Deeply moved by Roanoke’s reputation as the “Star of the South” he muses on what the term “star” means to him, naming Albert Einstein and Virginia’s own Thomas Jefferson as “stars” to him. He wonders, as he often does, “What was it like?” when the college began in 1842.

31:27Copy video clip URL “The key word is ‘community.’ It doesn’t mean ‘competitive edge,’ ” Terkel says, elaborating on a difference he sees between modern society and the WWII era of his youth. He digresses to call for national health care and praise the “spirit of youth” he still sees in his septuagenarian contemporaries present.

33:34Copy video clip URL He explains why he puts the title of his book “The Good War” in quotes, saying that “no war is good. The adjective and the noun are incongruous. They don’t match.” He tells anecdotes about a friend who served as a war correspondent and contrasts WWII with the Vietnam War. He feels, like many he’s interviewed, that life for members of his generation is split into BW and AW eras, or “before war” and “after war.”

36:06Copy video clip URL Quoting from an unnamed book, Terkel reads, “The reason you storm the beaches is not patriotism or bravery, because those are abstract words. Not flag, mother or country. It’s that sense of not wanting to fail your buddies.” He also talks about his generation’s other defining era—the Great Depression. “There comes a time when big government must step in,” he says, talking about the New Deal. He also feels that Americans “still think of war in abstract terms.”

40:59Copy video clip URL Terkel tells a story from an interview subject about a man reconnecting with one of his war buddies after decades of not seeing each other, an appropriate story for an alumni reunion. “The interesting part is that there’s a shared adventure,” he comments.

42:50Copy video clip URL “We’ve come to a time between Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein,” Terkel says before elaborating on the philosophies of the men he admires so much. Paraphrasing Einstein, he says, “Everything in the world has changed except the way we think. And the way we think hasn’t kept up with the wild technological advances we’ve made.” He also comments on the upcoming turn on the millennium, asking “How different are we really from the first millennium?”

45:00Copy video clip URL Terkel ties in an engaging and witty story of his visit to a burlesque house with what he sees as America’s loss of sense of past, or “national Alzheimer’s disease.” He bemoans the way that shallow 20-second soundbytes dominate the world of communication and calls for good healthy dissent in society to create community.

50:18Copy video clip URL He closes by quoting from Roanoke College’s alma mater: “learning to live and loving as we’re learning, seeking to find the truths for which we’re yearning.” “That’s what the country’s about, what the flag’s about, what the human spirit’s about,” Terkel concludes.

51:35Copy video clip URL Gring makes a few closing remarks about Roanoke College and the assembly sings the school’s alma mater.

 

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