Graduation Address : Breaking the I.C.E.
June 15, 2001
Speaker : Prof. Lyn Margaret Scott, Ph. D.
Interpreter : Stanley Lu, Graduating Senior
Congratulations to the FJU English Department graduating class of 2001 ; respectful greetings to Chairperson, Cecilia Liu, and proud parents, family, friends, teachers and special guests on this momentous occasion.
Dear graduates, you look distinguished in your black caps and gowns, but do you feel a bit warm ? Would a nice chunk of cold ice feel good? A piece of ice would mean something right now and in fact, there are two ancient stories about ice which ought to make you feel really cool.
Imagine you’re a hiker on a glacier-covered mountain ridge in the Alps between Italy and Austria ten years ago ; at an altitude of 3,210 meters, it’s freezing and the wind blows cold in your face. Unexpectedly, you see right in front of you, the torso of a frozen body protruding out of the permafrost. If you were there with the two German tourists on September 19, 1991, you would have just discovered Ötzi, the mummified Iceman who lay down in the shelter of an icy ridge 5,000 years ago and never got up. At first glance, you wouldn’t have guessed Otzi was from the Late Stone Age, his body might have been that of some European hiker who became lost and froze to death in a sudden snow storm. But after uncovering his copper axe, an unfinished six foot bow, partially mended arrows and antler arrowheads, grass-lined fur shoes and bearskin hat, the story of a ancient human being, on the run from a mysterious pursuer and desperately trying to repair his weapons, unfolds. Ötzi was educated in practical survival ; he was carrying a Stone Age first aid kit, flint dagger, spare parts, tools, bread and meat rations. Why didn’t he finish his trek across that Alpine ridge ? You make a shocking discovery -- Ötzi’s equipment is not in order ; vital pieces are missing or terribly damaged. Eight hours since his last meal, panicked, alone and probably in pain, Ötzi couldn’t handle the situation even with his years of practical training and the world’s earliest version of Outback gear.
Frozen in time, "ice-o-lated," another ice mummy lies, "as if asleep," on a high plateau in Siberia’s Altay mountains. An Ice Maiden was discovered in June only two years after Ötzi by archaeologist, Natalie Polosmak. Along with six sacrificial horses, the twenty-five-year-old Ice Maiden was buried in a coffin which quickly filled with water and transformed into a block of ice 24 centuries ago. When this ancient Pazyryk woman named the Ice Maiden was thawed out by pouring heated water around her coffin, she was revealed still wearing a delicate imported silk blouse, a three-foot tall elaborate headdress once painted with gold leaf and a necklace of carved camel charms. Her full-length riding boots were hardly damaged and beside her braided belt hung an attractive red purse containing a mirror. Surrounded by everyday articles such as tables, drinking vessels and dishes with food still on the plate, you feel so close to her – perhaps one of the storytellers or throat singers who are revered by the Altay people. She looks so confident, so practical ; then you notice a macabre fact about the Pazyryk burial – her eyes have been cut out and the sockets packed with fur. A sense of sightless void swells up as we realize Ice Maiden will never see her reflection in the mirror ; she’s blind.
Iceman and Ice Maiden "ice-o-lated," but re-appearing to us through archaeological discoveries as sophisticated, distinguished representatives from the past. It seems as if they had every practical necessity to live a successful life; they had "graduated." Read the sign : "Caution, thin ice !" Iceman and Ice Maiden send an eloquent warning to us today. Take the "ice" in ice-o-lation as an acronym for I.C.E. -- "Incomplete College Education." The tools and accessories of practical survival are not enough for twenty- first century men and maidens, any more than they were for this ancient couple. Scores and skills cannot connect the void if vision has been cut out. Do you hear the voice of an ice cold wind blow, "Whewwwww, p-r-a-c-t-i-c-a-l." Parents are you freezing your graduates in their tracks with cold as ice advice ? Be practical son/daughter ; pursue practical language ; practical ethics, practical ends, practical goals ; practical careers ; practical love ; practical ideas.
What happens when the arrows break ? What good is a mirror when you have furry eyeballs ? Comprehensive education, not practical education stands the test of time. Liberal arts education comprised of math, science, philosophy, history, literature, arts, language and culture makes the connections that produce critical, creative intelligence and instills values, which in turn, infuses thought and action. Given liberal arts vision, Ötzi would have forecast the ice storm and adjusted his position to higher ground instead of clinging to the comfortable cliff. At only twenty-five, the Ice Maiden might have chosen life instead of death ; she might have imagined that the fantastic mythical secrets of her tattoos did not tell the whole story and determined to live.
Graduates, the cosmos may end in a Big Chill. Leading astronomers of the Supernova Cosmology Project in 1998, using evidence gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope, announced that the universe is expanding. Furthermore, if the density of matter is less than gravity, the universe will drift farther apart indefinitely, causing another Ice Age. A scientific article entitled, "The Fate of the Cosmos," opens with lines from a well-known poem, "Fire and Ice."
Some say the world will end in fire ;
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Robert Frost, 1923
The Day the Sands Caught Fire: A desert impact site demonstrates the wrath of rocks from space
You have graduated, but your world could end in "ice-o-lation." Whether frozen in time, drifting in space, separated by hate or I.C.E., disconnections could leave you cold and lonely surrounded by fragments of practicalities. Iceman and Ice Maiden didn’t survive to make the next discovery which could have changed their destiny. Hold onto your vision ; take the high road ; stay connected to the fundamental truths of human life instilled through a comprehensive education. Be cool ; break the ice.
"The philosophic aim of education must be to
get each one out of his ISOLATED class and into the one humanity." Paul Goodman
(1911 - 1972) U.S. writer, teacher and psychotherapist
"The philosophic aim of education must be to get each one out of his ISOLATED class and into the one humanity." Paul Goodman (1911 - 1972) U.S. writer, teacher and psychotherapist
Factual sources :
NOVA, Online Television, PBS