Commencement Address by Mr. Greg Charak (CAS ’02), May 19, 2002

Commencement Address delivered by Mr. Greg Charak (CAS ’02)
School of Management Auditorium, Boston University, May 19, 2002

Good Evening!

Four years of Nietzsche, Plato, Kant and Hegel, four years of trenchant investigations into the illusions of the senses, and passionate denunciations of modern decadences, four years of Civilization and its Discontents and the Communist Manifesto–of scathing critiques of the state of politics and the price of pesto, four years of studying and practicing the highest art of philosophy…

Only to end up here–all dressed up in fancy clothes–gathered together for one last time in the plush auditorium of the Boston University School of Management!

History is not without a sense of irony (either that or it was our parent’s idea). You’ll never convert us, O Managers! (To be honest, I actually took a minor in the School of Management–and please don’t ever let any young businessperson tell you that what we do is nonsense!)

But no matter–we philosophers certainly know how to enjoy the hospitality of the prosperous–and four years of hard traveling on the path of wisdom has I think earned us a fine celebration, as well as a perfect chance to pause and provide some kind of account for what the heck happened to us here.

I sometimes think about my first philosophy class all those years ago–Introduction to Ethics. It was awesome. Professor Griswold strolled out in front of our grand, ampitheater-like classroom (in the School of Ed building just next door) and he proceeded to write just two lines on the blackboard–“Everything is relative” and “There are no absolute truths.” Now mind you, this was my first college class, and he was the one in the front of the room with the chalk, so who was I to argue. I was a little down of course about the news but I dutifully proceeded to scribble down in my fresh, untouched notebook, “Everything is Relative…There are NO absolute truths.”

But then the magic happened. Professor Griswold turned to face us and demanded to know “what is wrong with this statement–why doesn’t it work?” What? Huh? I don’t know… I was in shock–but a lady about two rows behind me shot up her hand and declared, “well, isn’t that statement meant as an absolute truth, so doesn’t it contradict itself?” Professor Griswold smiled and I was in awe…that woman is a genius and I am clearly out of my league!

I gleefully mulled over the remainder of that conversation for a number of days afterwards–and a few weeks later I brought chicken soup to my new girlfriend, began to read Plato’s Laches, and realized at once that I had found two great loves.

Maybe your experience was similar–whatever the particulars of the story, all of you sitting here at some point made the bold choice to be a little bit different– to dedicate yourselves and your time here at Boston University to a philosophical pursuit which promised not popular esteem, market attractiveness, or the guarantee of financial windfall–but rather all the rich possibilities of pure learning and ultimately the chance to wander through history and rifle through the vast coffers of ancient wisdom in an attempt to uncover some deeper understanding of both reality and the human condition. There were those magical moments in lecture or alone at night under a reading lamp when you felt as if you were being let in on the secrets of the universe; you had the feeling of being able to step back and see the big picture–the movements of history, the purity of mathematics, and the amazing string of continuity that runs through literature and art.

And OK, maybe you went through that period where you were a little ” too into philosophy.” You remember: the ripped t-shirt, the beard, the pocket-sized Zarathustra, the exhaustive sermons you would give to anyone who would listen on true knowledge and action and the vulgar state of modern culture, the hours upon hours we spent chewing the ears off our brave and patient friends and loved ones (thank you all, by the way!).

I know I was one silly, broken little man, somewhat lost in the quagmire of analysis–but who could blame us? There we were 18 and 19 years old, enduring the same bleak Boston winter that nearly wiped out the Pilgrims–and doing it in a less than inspirational epoch. We witnessed first hand the terrifying proliferation of reality television shows, the frightening release of Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman, and our version of “Woodstock” introduced the five dollar bottle of water and ended in general rioting. It is not insignificant to note that the first major political event of our college experience was the Clinton impeachment–talk about the desperate need to find something to believe in–so if we had a weird phase I think we can chalk it up to a kind of philosophical adolescence–for every developmental endeavor has its awkward stages and its rites of passage. It was during that time that we received the word of philosophy, that we became initiates into a belief system that preaches curiosity, investigation, and understanding.

So now we are finished; finished with what I am not sure. There is certainly much work to be done. Given the states of politics, science, and the general condition of our souls, the world needs people like us to help make sense of it all–to patiently translate the absurdity into some kind of human harmony and humility, willful dreamers with big, fresh eyes, heads in the clouds and hands in the soil.

Our parents had their try at perfection, their day to look for something better, and just because they finished their search doesn’t mean we have to give up ours. We’re glad for them that they arrived at certain realizations about reality, pragmatism, and compromise, but their acceptance of a kind of “common sense” just seems to clip the wings of original wonder. And while we appreciate their admonitions and advice, we would just as soon avoid the Fox News channel and find out for ourselves.

As far as leaving this place goes, yeah it’s hard. We were only able to survive here because we found a way to make a home. The ability to build a home is a magnificent thing–not unlike the capacity to dream–and just as there are certain dreams that we wish not to wake up from, there are also homes that we never want to leave. But it’s not supposed to be too easy I think.

Nietzsche says that: “This is the manner of noble souls: they do not want to have anything for nothing; least of all, life. Whoever is of the mob wants to live for nothing; we others, however, to whom life gave itself, we always think about what we might best give in return.”

Personally, I would like to thank the faculty here at B.U.; I couldn’t imagine a finer group of brilliant, diverse, caring people to learn from. It has been an honor for me.

I would also like to thank my parents, David and Roberta–anything I was, am, or ever will be is you and because of you.

I want to thank my sister Joanna–for giving and receiving all the screaming fits when we were kids so that I could have some quiet time for thinking.

And thank you Elizabeth Riley–a golden-armed angel who not only never stopped listening, and will never cease to teach me about both the pain and the wonderment of this life.

Allow me to end by quoting another of my favorite lines from Nietzsche: “And when your heart flows broad and full like a river; a blessing and a danger to all those living near–there is the origin of your virtue.”

Good luck everybody, it has been a pleasure. See you in San Diego!