Commencement Address by Mr. Vaughn Blackman (CAS ’07), May 20, 2007

Commencement Address delivered by Mr. Vaughn Blackman (CAS ’07)
School of Management Auditorium, Boston University, May 20, 2007

To begin with, I would like to thank the Department for this opportunity. I would also like to thank the professors and my fellow graduates for providing a stimulating learning environment and a wonderful 4 years of philosophical inquiry. And finally, I would like to thank all the parents for supporting us in our decision to pursue philosophy, even though it may not be the most financially rewarding major.

You know it’s strange: philosophy seems to have a bad reputation among many people. For example, just a week ago my roommate asked me “why would anyone choose to study philosophy”? He went on to say that it was a useless major and that it doesn’t really teach you anything. And while he does have a point that philosophy does not give concrete answers, this does not make it useless. Philosophy has helped us learn to question the world around us, to think for ourselves, and to grow as human beings. As a British psychologist once said, “In philosophy, it is not the attainment of the goal that matters, it is the things that are met along the way”.

And along the way we have found philosophy to be an interesting, exciting, and challenging area of study. For many of us, such as myself, we sat in our first class and thought, wow this is great stuff. Many of the issues discussed in class were in some sense already in our heads. Yet, it was only in class that these issues were brought to life and discussed in greater depth than we could ever imagine as mere freshmen. My first philosophy course happened to be Introduction to Ethics. From Aristotle’s notion of virtue, to Kant’s categorical imperative, to Utilitarianism, it was truly an enlightening experience. I quickly began to examine my everyday actions according to these theories, and was always eager to discuss them with friends. I think in a sense we all began to do this. We found ourselves wondering what would Spinoza say, or what would Nietzsche say. And the more we studied the views of great philosophers, and the more we questioned those views, the better we were able to develop our own ideas and the more we fell in love with philosophy.

And this is what I believe we all have in common. We all chose philosophy because it is our passion. Whether it be the teachings of the ancient Greeks, the empiricists, the rationalists, or any other field of the subject, we discovered something we found interesting and worthwhile. There were those magic nights where things started to click and we felt as though we came to know some all-important truth. Only the very next day in class, when we proudly raised our hand to proclaim our insight, we were politely offered a counter-argument which we had not considered. Yet there were many times that we were right, and this helped increase our thirst to learn. As a result, there were probably nights where we were a little too “into” philosophy. Like at that Frat party on a Friday night when we began to question whether the beer in our cup really exists.

Now as we progress into the next stage of our lives, into the “real world” we must always remember to keep the important things at the forefront of our lives. Things such as our family and friends, many of whom have traveled many miles to be here, to celebrate this great achievement with us. And of course, important things such as our passions in life. Let us not forget that we took 4 years of our lives to pursue philosophy because it is what we were passionate about. And while many of us will likely not pursue philosophy to the same extent in the future, we must continue to pursue what moves us, what challenges us and what inspires us. For as Hegel put it, “Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion”.

As we go through our day-to-day routines, it is easy to brush aside what’s important in life. So whenever you feel like this is taking place, I hope you will remember the story which I’m about to narrate. This is a story a friend recently shared with me, which can actually be found online–so I apologize if anyone has already heard it. But for those who haven’t, I believe it is worth hearing.

One day a professor stood before his philosophy class with some items in front of him. When the class began, he picked up a large, empty mayonnaise jar and filled it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.

The students responded with a unanimous yes.

The professor then poured 2 cups of coffee into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand.

“Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – your family, your health, your friends, your favorite passions – things that if everything else was lost, and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles also matter, although they are less important than the golf balls- they are things such as your job, your house, and your car. The sand is everything else – the small stuff.
If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.

Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

Then one of the students raised her hand and asked what the coffee represented. The professor smiled and said, “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a good cup of coffee.”

Thanks for listening and congrats to the class of 2007!