Commencement Address by Jenna Kreyche (CAS ’11), May 22, 2011
Commencement Address delivered by Jenna Kreyche
Law School Auditorium, Boston University, May 22, 2011
Professors, philosophy department staff, family, friends, and fellow graduates of 2011: welcome. Thank you all for allowing me to speak before you today; it is a great honor to stand in the company of so many scholars and the wonderful people who support them. We have all worked very hard to get here, and when I say “we” I am not only referring to myself and my fellow graduates, who have spent countless hours grappling with thousands of years of philosophy from the broken texts of the pre-Socratics to the idiosyncratic ramblings of Sartre. I am also referring to the professors who grappled with us in their lectures, office hours, and throughout the halls of CAS, and to the staff of the philosophy department, who have given much time and energy to allow the department to flourish. Most importantly, though, I am referring to all of the parents here today: you who have lent us your support, understanding, and bank accounts over these four years.
All of us have made sacrifices to get to this day, to this room, to these diplomas. The philosophers in the room might naturally be wondering—why? What is this all for? What value does this piece of paper hold?
Unfortunately, the nature and worth of philosophy remains very enigmatic to the general public. My grandfather used to say, whenever he was on an airplane and the person next to him asked what he did, he would say “I’m a philosopher” and it was the all-time greatest conversation stopper. A lot of people have asked me, and I’m sure most of you, what philosophy actually is, assuming it is some esoteric pastime of intellectuals in their ivory towers, pondering about useless abstractions. To be fair, there are definitely some philosophers who fit this description—ahem, Hegel—but as for the discipline itself, it is among the most relevant and essential disciplines in human life.
Of course we’d all like to think we’re doing only the most important work here as we spend our time sitting, thinking, writing, and arguing; but biased though I may be, I believe we really are. Knowledge, morality, meaning, reality, perception, language, beauty, truth—these are the fundamental aspects of life that philosophy endeavors to understand. So the next time someone tries to tell you, graduates of 2011, that your degree is useless, demand their definition of utility, and remember that the value of this degree extends beyond that of a tool. For what we have learned over these four years is more than can be expressed on a piece of paper or in a GPA. What we have learned is more than facts and definitions desperately memorized hours before an exam—we have learned about the fundamental nature of human life. Whether or not we actually have any answers to show for it—ehh that’s a different story.
Now, some of you will go on to law school and other graduate programs, and most of you will go on to eat beans out of a can (insert obligatory impoverished philosopher joke here), but all of you will go on to think critically and meaningfully about the world and its problems.
At this time, I would like to call upon one of my favorite quotes from the great Bertrand Russell: “As the Legendary Chinaman said: ‘me no drinkee for drinkee, me drinkee for drunkee’.” This quote, while politically incorrect, is used to communicate an important point about the nature of happiness and a meaningful life. The Legendary Chinaman is Russell’s example of how not to approach life: in pursuit of objects merely as means to an end, rather than as ends in themselves. The Legendary Chinaman cannot become happy by only enjoying his drink for the sole end of getting drunk; and likewise, the happy life is not afforded by getting this degree to get this job to get this salary to get this house to get this life. True happiness, according to Russell, can only come from seeking things with a “genuine zest,” for only then can you experience the thrill and the satisfaction of engaging in one of the most amazing capacities of mankind: passion.
Now, considering the rather limited job opportunities afforded by a philosophy degree, I feel comfortable making the assumption that my colleagues share a love for philosophy as an end in itself, rather than as a means. So, fellow graduates of 2011, in the vein of Russellian happiness, keep drinking for the sake of the drink, and you might just end up getting drunk.
Congratulations, class of 2011, and the best of luck to all of you!