CORNELL COLLEGE CONVOCATION REMARKS, OCTOBER 22, 2016

On receiving the school’s Leadership and Service Award from the Alumni Association, I made these brief comments:

Whenever I sit down to work on an essay or a short story, whenever I lift this growing binder of translations of ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’—my next choices are informed by the rigorous training I received here at Cornell College.

It was not simply instruction in the data-received sense. As importantly—or more importantly—I had the inspiring experience of spending four years in the company of a startling array of fierce intellectuals and robust individualists, from [teachers] Robert Dana, Liz Isaacs, Geneva Meers, Stephen Lacey, Rich Martin and Diana Crowder to [Dean] Bill Heywood, [coach] Barron Bremner, photographer Bob Campagna and groundskeeper Ernie Sommerville, a scathing critic of my work study leaf raking technique.

I emerged, somewhat miraculously, in one piece. And better, with the heart to fight again and again the dizzying and often lonely battles inherent in the crafting of individual expressions and then bearing them forward in a world that tragically too often encourages, and rewards, conformity that furnishes us with a shallow stability at the price of our deep and sacred imaginations.

Regardless of current institutional fashion, because I attended this extraordinary school I not only believe, I know there are invincible arguments to be made for the study of the humanities—for the pursuit of art and knowledge for the sake of art and knowledge—as this practice singularly bolsters the health of our mental, emotional and spiritual beings.

To those who handed me the light and showed me the way, I will be forever grateful. For them I quote these lines from Puck’s last speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Now the hungry lion roars,

And the wolf behowls the moon…

I am sent with broom before

to sweep the dust behind the door.

Ben Miller ’86 accepts Leadership and Service Award

 

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