Gould addresses RL majors at 2016 Commencement
The following is the 2016 Romance Languages commencement address, given by Evlyn Gould, CAS Distinguished Professor in the Humanities and Professor Emerita of French
Buenos días y bienvenidos; bona tarde y bemvindos;
Buona sera i benvenuti; bonjour et bienvenues…. Let your minds travel with those sounds for just a moment….
These are the sounds of other lands, other faces and other places, other smells and others tastes… These are the sounds of the Romance Languages in which we shall confer degrees today.
I am Evlyn Gould, Professor Emerita of French and I am delighted to be the one to address you today at these commencement ceremonies for the Dept. of Romance languages honoring the graduating class of 2016. Give yourselves a round of applause.
Commencement ceremonies… I am thoughtful because after 33 years of teaching at the UO, I, too, am graduating. We do think of this event as the end, end of the term, of the year, of our formal studies. Indeed, as of today, gone are the finals, gone are the demanding professors, the deadlines, the all-nighters. But commencement is not about that. From the French commencement or Italian, cominciare, or Spanish, comenzar, today is a new beginning, with new horizons of possibility before you, new responsibilities and your own assignments and deadlines… to set for yourselves.
You are entering a world of networks, a world of continual communications and continual connection, a world of inters: Inter-disciplinarity, international markets, inter-ethnic conflicts, interactions of all sorts with long-distance migrants and immigrants, a world of environmental inter-dependence. As students with expertise in languages other than English, your reach through these networks is potentially extensive. You may find yourself making instantaneous translations for the other side of the world, (or slow and painful ones that anguish over just the right expression for that culturally specific foreign idea that you want to translate for people here in the US); you may travel to the other side of the world with regularity, or you may stay there awhile to improve living conditions, the soil, the housing or the crops in Uruguay, in Mexico, in Spain, in Chad, in Lampedusa, in Morocco or in Egypt. You may practice international law or work in international tourism. You may stay right here in the Pacific North West and still serve people on the other side of the world with a flick or a click of the hand. You may teach in multi-ethnic, multi-cultured schools, or you may teach Oregonians about these other communities; you may invest your time aiding transcriptions in hospitals, in banks, or in refugee centers, or you may simply invest your great earnings in the global market economy. However you deploy the learning and experience you have engaged over your years at UO, you will be GLOBAL CITIZENS.
What are global citizens? Let me say quickly that they are not the clichéd unit of speech designed to be mere fodder for political rhetoric, nor are they a way to designate the impersonality of transactions required by technology. Rather, according to a recent report on US education: global citizens are rarer than we might think for these are individuals—and I quote–who…. “are aware of the global nature of societal issues, care about people in distant places, understand the nature of global economic integration, appreciate the interconnectedness and interdependence of people, respect and protect cultural diversity, fight for social justice for all, and protect planet Earth—home for all human beings” (Zhao 2010).
The US has struggled with the goal of creating curricula designed to promote global citizenship because of a feeling of isolation, a century of international dominance, the perception that globalized themes are insurmountable and that many of the issues we face as ‘global citizens” remain controversial or just plan hard to talk about: how are our values shaped by location, by poverty or by wealth, by safety or war, or famine, by religion, by geographic displacement or by climate chaos? But where the US has fallen short, we in the Dept of Romance Languages excel! By studying second, third, or even fourth languages and their literatures at UO and by steeping in the rich cultures and lifestyles they have shaped, you have improved your ability to cross many of these social, geographic, economic, and cultural divides.
Today, with unprecedented speed, we are, as Gustave Flaubert wrote in the increasingly industrialized mid-19th century, “everywhere and nowhere at once.” And what are the tools that will be necessary for this (acceleration) and its constant demand to re-position your energies and intentions? Well…, this continual re-location requires a certain eco-location. … (and not because we’ll all be underwater…) Like our friends in the sea, to eco-locate is to perceive the sounds around us, to move in response to them, hear the melodies of languages, knowing that those melodies represent the souls of people. Ever more than technology, social networking across language barriers, and deep sensitivities to cultural and economic divides, to religious differences, to varied ethnicities (genders and values), and to the many-splendored ideas about what constitutes the good life… in this world of ours, these will be the skills central to everyday communication and to the preservation of our planet for the future.
Now a closing to word to parents and families and then to you graduates:
Parents and families, your investment has been a good one—in the future of your students and in our future. Students with liberal arts education who spend time in the company of other languages learn to feel different emotions, to rehearse different passions, to experience different sacred rituals and to hear the world in different ways. They may take longer to find their own satisfying niches in the working world, but research shows that they will be happier and live longer lives in the long run. Moreover, I might also point out that recent brain research has revealed that studying second and third languages increases brain plasticity. It actually has health benefits… It opens new pathways in the cerebral cortex and quickens the synapses making for better adaptation to the speeding world.
Students, join me now in thanking your parents and families for doing their best to outfit you for a world they cannot themselves yet imagine.
Graduates, … YOU are thinkers and readers. You have learned to discern, beneath the surfaces of texts, the voices and stories of other hearts yearning. You have learned to ask the big questions literature asks: about life, love, politics, death, and meaning. You are people poised to challenge the intoxications of immediate gratification, peoples poised in ethical responsiveness before an often unfair world, people who know how to listen and how to become silent so as to hear the Earth crying out. I have spoken with many of you. I know you have great ideas for using global advertising to improve the environment, for deploying new business strategies to improve lives, food and access, for publishing and speaking in new ways that diminish discrimination, and promote equanimity rather than promoting the fears of scarcity thinking. I for one am glad to have you on my team. I congratulate you heartily. May you take up your participation in a global citizenry in responsible and thoughtful ways and may you understand that your particular way of participating is absolutely essential to the whole. Thank you.