Page 15


Surrender to Whom? Commencement Address, College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas, May, 1980 By Cliff Grubbs IV Accordingly, the question of the individual and personal estate during a time of increasing social ambiguity is surely not out of order for this commencement. One can already see the beginning of a separation between personal values and the vast confusion of the social machine. Cults, schisms, hatreds, lies, promises, doubts, persuasions, sects, new catechisms an angry sea of social voices, the Vicar might have said. I hardly wish to suggest that any member of this graduating class should abandon the confusion of the social dialogues, right or left. That is not my concern. But all the same, it may surely be argued that any individual must remain accountable for the integrity of the personal life, that there is always a question of individual propriety, codes and personal standards, in any day, any place, any time. So, how will it be for you amidst the confusing voices which lie ahead of your own day and time? Surrender to the curious deception that the confusion of this world has done you wrong when the world has not even heard of you? That is the way of the child. Surrender to the connoisseurs of personal decadence, to some hedonist cult in the new Narcissism? Surrender to the psychological fakes who promise personal redemption if you will only “let it all hang out?” That is the way of the fop. Surrender to a so-called man on a white horse who would end the confusion of the voices by silencing all but one? That is the way of the ignorant. Surrender to a new witch mania, teaching hatred among different races and cultures in the United States? That is the way of the .. . nightmare. Let the question be fairly asked: surrender to whom or to what? What if no one cares? What if no one will accept your personal surrender? What if there is no apocalypse, no exit, no escape from uncertainty, no way out, no breakwater? What then? Thoughtful men and women will rather elect to deal with social ambiguity and danger in a different way by acknowledging the presence of it, and by understanding that it is not going to pass for many, many years. One must rather /Ate with ambiguity without being engulfed by it. And in that trial of your time, it is not true that you are no more than a mechanical product of the social machine, not true that you have no personal resources, not true that you have no conception of personal honor and integrity amidst the confusion of the times. All that is simply not true. For surely among the socially lucky in this hall today, one need not be a Stoic to understand that in the end it will do no good to use the failures of society to justify the failures of the personal life; no good to look for something in society to curse when the culprit is more close to home; no good to allow the personal life to “go to the dogs” under the proposition that society has already gone to the dogs; no good to wish the death of society to exonerate the personal misgivings of the individual estate. Swings in mood from social optimism to social pessimism? No. Rather self-government, rather a steadying of the personal helm, rather an affirmation of your own strength, rather the personal re solve to try to live an honorable life whatever the time, whatever the place, whatever the day. For the overwhelmingly simple the most human fact of this commencement is that, although we have come to an end of the first epoch of the United States, you are alive. Your personal epoch is just beginning. And in this personal life, depend upon it, there can be no substitute for one word courage the will to get on with it, whatever the times ahead. You cannot stop, you cannot go back. You must go on the larger social issue remaining. V So to conclude here, one may finally ask: what of social faith during the long interregnum now before us? What of the larger measure? What of the older American dream? What of the great locomotive thundering on in the darkness? For many men and women of my generation, there is the loving memory of a more certain past. There is history, the anchor of the heart. That the old American dream was flawed need not detain us here. All human undertakings are flawed. But even so it was a good and decent faith in the hope of this country that one may share in this year. For above all, it was a restless, ever-changing vision from Thomas Jefferson to Martin Luther King that here by God, we would do it. And yet, what was it, this faith, this messiah in the technological data, this American solution mystique? Perhaps it was the vision that here for the first time there was a new world in which the freedom of men and women need not depend upon the political and economic subjugation of others. Perhaps it was the thought that all the boats could rise together on the new tide. Perhaps it was the vision of a time, a dream as Martin King said, when men and women of different races could live together in reasonable peace without trying to kill each other. Perhaps it was all that. For there has always been an infernal magic about the word, America. Of course, many writers have spoken to this older magic. For some it has been a “sudden leap,” a thunder in the distance, a “new age” to come. But “we should have had jt,” wrote Thomas Wolfe in You Can’t Go Home Again; we were just beginning we should have had it fifty years ago . . . but all this turmoil came too soon.” The same moving theme was voiced by F. Scott Fitzgerald at the close of his great American story, where he wrote: Gatsby believed in the green light, in the . . . future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther . . . And one fine morning. For my colleagues and our Dean of this great College to you the graduates of this class in the year, 1980. To you in our faith. From Texas . . . with love. For it has been written by your generation too, that “the answer my friend is blowing in the wind.” Goodbye and good luck. AIL Bernard Rapoport, Chairman of the Board P.O. Box 208, Waco, Texas 76703 American Income Life Insurance Company 22 SEPTEMBER 5, 1980