A speech by Pine Manor College 2018 Honorary Alpha Chi Inductee,
Professor William Vogele, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science
You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
My friends, colleagues and students. Thank you. It is truly an honor to have been selected for membership in Alpha Chi. I have been to this ceremony many times – so I am well aware of the hard work, dedication and accomplishments of Alpha Chi members. I would note that each of these students have done it in under four years – and it has taken me a good bit longer. It should be clear who is the slow learner in this group.
By custom, the recipient of this membership offers some observations about the role and importance of scholarship in their lives. For folks like me, who have been in the “scholarship business” for almost all of our adult lives, this obviously makes sense. But as I join this society tonight I will take a bit of a detour – I wish to reflect on that thing underlying all scholarship and learning – that small thing of the search for “Truth”.
I have been thinking about truth for a few reasons lately. First, it is central to Alpha Chi. We have just lit candles symbolizing truth – and the Society’s motto reads
“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
That is pretty inspirational – a bit daunting, but daunting is a good thing for inspiration.
Second, as a citizen I worry about our civic discourse that increasingly seems to replace the truth with alternative facts. We have seen this most recently in the context of mass violence in Florida. A young survivor, who speaks out for gun control, is falsely said to be a “crisis actor” who travels from crisis to crisis. Rumors and lies get spread by the trolls of social media – and then by public personalities – and repeated so they have the “feel of truth.” As a citizen all of this worries me –we attack each other without regard for truth – truth become defined as “my truth”.
And finally, as I teacher I stress to my students that our responsibility as scholars is to ask sharp questions so that we may understand our world more deeply and more clearly. As teachers and learners, I think that for us to “seek the truth” means to recognize the paradoxical companion of truth – doubt.
Truth does not mean simply to be “right”. Seeking truth is about seeking understanding. We cannot work toward really understanding things if we don’t bring doubt along for the ride.
Because doubt makes us ask questions. It makes us challenge our assumptions. It makes us see the world in new ways than we are used to. When we seek to learn we ask ourselves – What is it that I do not know here? Do I really understand this problem or situation – what is missing? We test our hypotheses – and our assumptions.
Perhaps most importantly a search for truth requires us to be in relationship with each other. We ask: What can I learn from this other person’s life and viewpoint?
Fellow Alpha Chi members – I like the sound of that! – let us keep questioning. Keep asking, “Really? Is that right? Am I right?” Let us go bravely into those places that make us feel uncomfortable – even dumb. You can do that without worry because you are NOT dumb – you are all smart enough to know how to do the work.
Let us continue to grow from our efforts to seek the new – in ourselves and in others – to keep building our power of inquiry and learn the power of empathy.
Continue to speak truth to power – because power protects itself against the challenges to injustice with the false ring of certainty.
Thank you again for the honor to join you in Alpha Chi.
[Delivered during the Alpha Chi and Honors Ceremony on Wednesday, March 28th 2018]