[Studs Terkel commencement address at Lake Forest College, 2002]

Studs Terkel speaks at the 2002 Commencement at Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois. Terkel praises the liberal arts and lessons taught through history, urging students to work toward realizing the dream of an "open society." Excerpt of a longer tape, which includes the full ceremony and footage of honorary degrees given to Deborah Leff, Carl MaultsBy and Cass R. Sunstein.

00:00Copy video clip URL S. Anthony McCann, Chairman of the Academic Affairs Committee of the college’s Board of Trustees, presents Studs Terkel as a candidate for the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

00:27Copy video clip URL President of Lake Forest College Stephen D. Schutt praises Terkel’s accomplishments as the first “oral historian” of his kind. “The women and the men in your books—hundreds of them across all walks of life, in every circumstance imaginable—have persuaded us that human virtue is undying,” Schutt says. “We all have stories, and we and they all matter. As you have reminded us interview after interview, there is no such thing as a blue-collar mind, no such thing as a hard-hat psyche.”

04:08Copy video clip URL Schutt comments on Terkel’s latest book, Will the Circle be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth and Hunger for a Faith. Schutt quotes Terkel, saying, “It is a sweet irony that my first book of the 21st century is about death. Yet these testimonies are also about life and its pricelessness. Hopefully, that’s what this book is about—death of course, but only by living its long prelude: life.” He then awards Terkel his honorary degree.

05:27Copy video clip URL Taking the podium as commencement speaker, Terkel jokes, “One of the youngest presidents this college had, Stephen Schutt, introduced to you one of the oldest geezers ever to give a commencement address.”  He begins his remarks by emphasizing the importance of the humanities, telling the graduates, “I know all of you will pursue certain professions … but unless you’re immersed in humanities which connect us with past and present, and thus gives us an idea about the future, we’re not part of a common humanity.”

07:57Copy video clip URL Terkel quotes the address given at his own graduation from the University of Chicago Law School, by former University President Robert Maynard Hutchins. “The purpose of higher education is to unsettle young men and women, to inflame their intellects,” he says in part. “You are closer to the truth now than you ever will be again. Don’t let practical men surrender your ideals.”

09:08Copy video clip URL Terkel shares a brief anecdote about his vocal struggles against communist witch hunts in the era of McCarthyism. His friend, legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, once said of him, “Studs, you got such a big mouth, you should’ve been a preacher.”

10:30Copy video clip URL Terkel begins his “sermon” with an impromptu decision to change the topic of his remarks. Instead of speaking on “The Need to Ask Why” as he planned, he talks about “The Greatest Generation?” He posits that the young people of the 1960s constitute true “greatest generation.” Without their struggles in the civil rights and feminist movements, he says, the ethnically diverse group of men and women graduates wouldn’t possibly be gathered before him today.

13:25Copy video clip URL “You are faced with something fascinating and terrifying, and at the same time exhilarating,” he says to the graduates, referencing the events of September 11. “I love to quote Albert Einstein. You know why? Nobody dares contradict me. When Albert Einstein heard that the atom bomb, exponentially the most explosive ever destructive event was dropped on humans, he tore his hair. And then he said, ‘Ever since that day, ever since the atom was split, the world has changed irreparably except one thing—the way we think.’ And that’s where the humanities come into the picture. We must think anew and independently,” Terkel says, challenging the students to become thoughtful Americans.

17:49Copy video clip URL “My hope, not only mine but [of] all of my contemporaries, is in you,” he says in closing, remarking that even though man can wage wars capable of sending humanity back to the neanderthal age, “that need not be, and I know it will not be because of you.”

18:46Copy video clip URL “I’m going to end, again plagiarizing,” Terkel jokes, quoting chaplain and peace activist William Sloan Coffin, Jr.’s invocation at a Yale University commencement. “As we leave this hall, let there be young men and women for whom the complexity of issues only serves their zeal to deal with them … so that we may have in the world a little more truth, a little more justice, a little more beauty that wouldn’t have been had we not loved the world enough to quarrel with it for what it is not but still can be,” he reads. “Take our hearts and set them on fire.” He receives a standing ovation.



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