1986: President Hearn


1986 WFU Commencement
May 19, 1986
Dr. Thomas K. Hearn, Jr.
President, Wake Forest University

Socrates told us long ago that education has everything to do with language. Our commerce with the world is mediated by symbols and systems of symbols. The situation is complicated nowadays because new knowledge — or even the accumulation of new facts — imposes on us new sorts of language and/or jargon. Language and concept must expand to meet the extension of human understanding. The discourse of education similarly enlarges and expands.

Whether in philosophy or psychology or law or medicine — students are apprentices to complex and specialized vocabularies. In some cases, courses of study present us with what are literally new languages. In other domains, we learn to understand and interpret new realms of discourse — the symbol systems of numbers or music or poetry or chemistry or physics.

This is where it is particularly important that we understand the centrality of the liberal arts and sciences at Wake Forest. If education consists in the speaking of many languages, we must have the rudiments of a common grammar and vocabulary if the university is to be a university, rather than a modern tower of Babel. As knowledge accumulates and requires ever more specialization and selection in all of our courses of study, the fundamental mastery of the basic skills in the basic discipline becomes ever more urgent.

The faculty — gathered appropriately at the forefront of this assembly — are the protectors of the integrity of discourse in their respective fields. At the same time they desire to see their vocabularies extend. That is part of their motivation to inspire and induct new generations of scholars.

Properly enough, this day belongs to the graduates and their families. In another sense, however, the day belongs also to the faculty. After all, the faculty have taught you to speak their respective languages. Word is but prologue to deed. Therefore, we pray that the faculty has given you a better understanding of the significance of this University’s motto: Pro Humanitate.

Will the faculty please stand and face the graduates so that they and the rest of us may give you the applause you deserve.

To all of you, I say thank you.