Following is the text of the December 2014 Commencement Address as delivered by then-Professor of Politics Edgar "Eddie" Dyer. Dyer also served as executive vice president and chief operating officer for Coastal Carolina University.
Good morning. You will shortly receive your degree from one of the finest academic institutions in America, as gauged by a number of rating agencies. I can also tell you the same as an administrator and member of the faculty here. And as a parent, I am proud to tell you that my son got a great education here as an undergraduate and also in the graduate program in writing. So, like you, I have invested in Coastal Carolina in a number of ways.
I’d first like to thank President DeCenzo and our Board of Trustees for this opportunity to speak to you today. I consider it a distinct privilege. I think all commencement speakers should announce the length of their talks at the outset because it helps to know how long one is going to be held hostage with one final lecture before receiving one’s degree. Accordingly, I plan to speak for 22 minutes.
This is already a memorable day for me. As I look back over my career, another of the more memorable days here was my first day as a professor. I was freshly out of graduate school and law school. With all the bravado of youth, I breezed into Room 110 of Kearns Hall, on the Tuesday after Labor Day, 1976, and after taking roll and reviewing the syllabus for that introductory course in political science, I proceeded to tell the twenty or so students there everything I knew about American government, politics, political science, public administration, constitutional law, and everything I knew about life generally. I looked at my watch and had used about 30 minutes of class time. I had poured out the accumulated contents of my brain in about half an hour. At that point, it dawned on me that I not only had another half hour of that class and 41 more class sessions that semester, but I also had three more courses to teach.
It was at that very moment that I realized that teaching is hard. I was challenged, not only that year, but every time I walked into the classroom, challenged to have something to say and challenged to interest students in wanting to hear it. I concluded then and I continue to believe that teaching is a calling and not just a job.
This is why I have told people for almost four decades now that my real education began when I came to Coastal Carolina to teach. So, practically speaking, I am an alumnus of this institution like you.
Researchers tell us that we retain about 5 percent of the information imparted to us in our undergraduate years. Information is definitely a necessary ingredient of education but you are also hopefully leaving here with an appreciation of learning and with the basics of how to learn.
My academic discipline has been the study of government and politics. The primary goal of government in a society is the balancing of liberty with order. Some societies lean more toward order and some lean more toward freedom.
I first want to spend some time this morning speaking to you about freedom’s dependence upon universal public education.
The taxpayers of America, of South Carolina, and of Horry County have spent a lot of money to get you to the seat you occupy today. You and your families have also spent a lot of money to get you to that seat.
The bottom line is that a lot of money is spent on universal public education in this country. The question becomes “Why?” and the answer lies in our primary values as a nation. You can know a lot about a person’s values by studying how and where they spend their money. The same is true for nations. We value individual freedom in America. But we know that a free society is not possible without universal education and this is the primary reason we fund education so heavily.
I’ll illustrate this with a few examples.
It is often said that freedom comes from the truth. The Holy Bible and other sacred works say as much. There are many ways to the truth, but the search is greatly aided by the enlightenment and raising of consciousness that follows formal education. This is expressed in the Latin motto of this institution: Ex libertate veritas – from freedom, the truth. The reverse is also true. Truth and its elevation of our spirit set us free and the search for truth is not possible without some semblance of formal education. I’ve appreciated our Latin motto for the 21 years that we have been an independent institution and we have our first Board of Trustees to thank for that motto. Two of those trustees were very active in choosing our motto, our seal and our colors and they are still with us and are seated behind me: Mr. Larry Lyles and Dr. Oran Smith. Thank you for your vision, gentlemen.
I’ll further illustrate my point about the intertwined relationship of education, enlightenment and freedom with a bit of history from colonial times. If you look around the globe, virtually everywhere the British Empire colonized is a relatively stable and functioning democracy today. But look at those places colonized by the Spanish and the French and you will find most of what we call the Third World, impoverished nations in continuous upheaval, alternating between anarchy and dictatorships.
What was the difference that is still so evident today? There were certainly religious differences between British Protestantism and the Roman Catholicism of Spain and France. But the factor that made the biggest difference was that the British required the formal education of their colonists and required that they all speak their monarchs’ common language. The British believed that an empire would be more profitable to all if each citizen of the commonwealth was taught the benefits of a parliamentary system of government and a free enterprise economy. They sought to provide this understanding through mandatory universal education. Conversely, the Spanish and the French forbade any sort of education in their colonies. Their philosophy was that an illiterate populous would be easier to control and to ultimately exploit. Both of these theories were, of course, correct and the legacy of that era continues today, long after the conquerors returned to Europe.
Looking at our own history in America, one of the cruelest practices of slavery was the prohibition against teaching slaves even the basics of reading and writing, thereby mimicking the French and Spanish colonialists. The driving force behind this practice was the fact that the slave owners knew that education and the raised consciousness it fosters would ultimately bring about a desire for freedom and the wherewithal to attain it. Consequently, places like the South Carolina Pee Dee and its Interstate 95 “Corridor of Shame”, which is heavily populated with descendants of slaves, lag generations behind the rest of the nation with respect to formal education and its many benefits.
Similarly, a great portion of the white population of the American South, especially in places like Appalachia, has lagged behind the rest of the nation because formal education was not valued or was not economically feasible for a number of generations. The legacy of child labor in the factories and mills of the South is a shameful one, depriving generations of children not only of their youth but of the benefits of a basic education.
So, the common denominator of Third World misery from colonial practices and the areas of America that propagate poverty and despair is the fact that there were many generations who were denied formal education.
And with respect to the sensitive issue of race in America, there are those who advocate that racism will disappear only after economic equity is achieved. Money certainly helps, but racism will disappear in America only after educational parity is achieved. The elimination of racism cannot be purchased. It will require universal understanding, which will only come from universal education.
Turning now to your education at Coastal Carolina as you sit here this morning, about to receive a diploma, you have sufficiently demonstrated the following to our faculty:
First, proficiency in our commonly accepted method of communication in this society – which is the English language,
Second, comprehension of mathematical concepts, as numbers and quantitative problem solving is an integral part of life anywhere,
Third, an appreciation of science – what it can achieve, along with its limitations in investigating and explaining mysteries of life and the universe,
Fourth, understanding that there are philosophical, religious, literary, ethical, cultural and other humanistic concepts through which the world can be interpreted,
Fifth, realization that there are other cultures, languages and social structures in the world that are as legitimate and workable as our own,
Sixth, awareness that human behavior and societal behavior are complex,
Seventh, knowing that the arts are a high aspiration and that creative endeavors are a valid way of expressing and explaining the values of individuals, social orders and the human condition, and
Lastly, recognizing that our cultural and political heritage in the United States, as expressed in our founding documents and through our chosen form of government, is one that seeks to maximize human freedom and balance it with an ordered society.
What I just described constitutes not only our core curriculum but also the core of the liberal arts. To illustrate the importance of the humanities and the liberal arts, I offer a perspective from Mohandas or Mahatma Gandhi. Shortly before he was assassinated in 1948, he gave to his grandson a list of what he called the seven blunders of the world. They are:
• Wealth without work
• Pleasure without conscience
• Knowledge without morality
• Commerce without character
• Science without humanity
• Worship without sacrifice, and
• Politics without principle
An education without these elements of conscience, morality, character, humanity, sacrifice and principle is but a partial and woefully inferior endeavor. These balancing characteristics are greatly aided by the humanities and the fine arts, which lend compassion and civility to education.
If the liberal arts are diminished in our system of formal universal education in America, the coarseness that is increasingly permeating our society will eventually erode both freedom and order. That’s already a painful fact in some places in America where education is no longer a widely shared value.
On the topic of that coarseness, I want to pause here and say something to you young men. You are being sold, on a daily basis through the American entertainment industry and their commercial sponsors, an ideal of manhood and masculinity that is uncivil and boorish. Contrary to the intended message, this ideal is not based on strength. The image you are being sold is an outcome of a lack of real self-respect and self-esteem, which is a result of a lack of education and understanding. Strong human beings do not pay homage to violence and anti-social behavior. Real men display strength in various ways and one of these ways is knowing how to be gentle, compassionate, well-mannered and respectful of other humans, especially women and anyone physically weaker. That is what strong men do. Real men, naturally, protect their families, their communities and their nations from invaders, but when they are not being required to visit violence on bad guys, real men are models of kindness, peacefulness and humility. And real men help raise the children they father, with their resources and with their time, even if they live apart from them. My best advice to you young men is to not let celebrities and the entertainment industry set your standards of behavior and masculinity. Those individuals are carefully crafted illusions and pretenders for the sole purpose of making money. Don’t buy into it – literally.
And just a word to you young ladies if I might – don’t settle for anything less.
Returning to Gandhi’s list of seven blunders, his grandson eventually added an eighth: rights without responsibilities. I have often felt that some of the imbalance in our society is partially caused by the fact that America’s founding fathers created a Bill of Rights but not a corresponding Bill of Responsibilities or Duties.
We have become a society of entitlement and I’ll give you an example.
A few years ago when I was still teaching a course in constitutional law each year, I was walking from the administration building to the humanities & fine arts building one day for my class. A young man was driving through the parking lot with his windows down and with music blaring so loudly that it was vibrating his car. The lyrics of the song were revoltingly profane.
When I arrived at my class and after taking attendance, I began by recounting that experience and how such behavior should be frowned upon and discouraged in all places, especially on a college campus where we are trying to focus the minds of our students on a higher consciousness.
When I finished my remarks, a student in the front row said: “But it’s their right.”
I was stunned by this statement to the extent that I resolved at that point to increase my efforts to teach the class the difference between liberty and licentiousness and that constitutional rights don’t carry with them the license to do whatever one wishes, whenever and wherever one pleases.
Every right carries the duty to exercise it in a reasonable and rational manner and without encroaching on the rights of others, such as the right not to be assaulted with other people’s deafening and vulgar music in a public place. Respect for the rights of others makes for a civil and civilized culture. The declaring of one’s rights without the balance of a respect for the rights of others is a threat to freedom. Enlightened societies know the difference between liberty and licentiousness and enlightened societies practice that knowledge.
I have been fortunate to work for the past 38½ years in one of the three professions that are privileged to wear the robe. They are the clergy, the judiciary and academia. All three wear the robe to de-personalize the job that all three perform, which is to seek the truth and to deliver it with intellectual honesty. A significant number in each profession are given tenure in office for just that purpose. In my lifetime, however, all three of these professions have become increasingly politicized and partisan, with a predictable erosion of intellectual honesty. I sincerely hope that this phenomenon will subside. Too much is at stake for it to continue. Nothing is more precious to a free society than the objective seeking and speaking of the truth without fear or favor or politically partisan motivations.
Diversity of opinion is healthy in a democracy and diversity of ideas is healthy in academia. Diversity is a relevant topic these days but the discussion is usually based on race. The current thinking is that racial diversity is needed in every forum to insure that all perspectives are presented for decision-makers. To me, that ironically describes a very racist and race-conscious practice. It presumes that all members of a race think alike and come at life from the same point of view and the same experience. This is dangerously similar to racial profiling.
A much more important discussion on diversity needs to take place in academia and that discussion needs to focus on the diversity of ideas and perspectives, rather than on race or other superficial distinctions. In many parts of academia today, if one departs from the party line – whether it is the party line of global warming or the party line of who first inhabited North America or any other party line that advances a politicized agenda – one not only takes career risks but one is also silenced in other ways. And some colleges and universities have fallen into the practice of refusing to invite or even disinviting speakers whose ideas conflict with the prevailing political views of the faculty and/or students at their respective campuses.
This small-minded tyranny of those who exercise a heckler’s veto is both appalling and dangerous to freedom of thought and expression. Students at such campuses receive little more than the training one might expect at the communist re-education camps we hear about.
My point is that if academia is to remain viable and true to its purpose of truth-seeking in our society, academicians need to honor the uppermost of diversities – the diversity of ideas. Otherwise, academia will become increasingly marginalized in an increasingly polarized society. The stakes are too high – it is freedom itself that is at stake when intellectual conformity is mandated for political reasons or for any other reason.
In summary, my message to you this morning is that universal education begets enlightenment and truth which beget understanding which begets freedom itself, the most basic good among human societies when balanced with order. The liberal arts are a vital part of that universal education. I also believe that the abuse of asserting rights in a rights-driven society, especially to the point of licentiousness, is a threat to freedom and order and that the tolerance of diversity of opinion is the primary diversity that needs to be honored in professions whose primary responsibility is to seek the truth.
I’ll close with a study I recently read in an AARP magazine. AARP is the American Association of Retired Persons. You’ll start getting that magazine when you turn 50, whether you want to or not. Somehow, the AARP knows when you turn 50 and somehow the AARP finds you.
The study listed the five most common regrets of people at the end of their lives. Since you’re at the beginning of your lives, I pass these findings on to you to file away in your memories, to recall and reflect upon from time to time.
First, they wish they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them
Second, they wish they hadn’t worked so hard
Third, they wish they’d had the courage to express their feelings
Fourth, they wish they’d stayed in touch with their friends, and
Fifth, they wish they’d let themselves be happier.
Well, I congratulate you as you set forth from this community of scholars we call Coastal Carolina University. And you have been central among those scholars while you’ve been here.
I hope you will fondly remember this place and your experiences here as you move through the various passages of your respective lives.
I hope that your investment of resources and time here will ultimately help you to seek the truth, to keep learning, to make good choices, and to deal with and sort through the busyness of existence and to make a living.
And lastly, I hope you will come back often to this beautiful campus, to share your stories and your experiences with us.