Challenging Conventional Wisdom: Deborah Gorman-Smith’s 2019 Aims of Education Address

JOHN BOYER: Good evening. It’s a pleasure to welcome
you to the Aims of Education address for 2019. All colleges and universities
have venerable customs. And the University of
Chicago has more than most. Appropriate for
a university that was founded in 1890 as an engine
of educational innovation, one of our most esteemed
annual traditions involves thinking
about and even debating the aims of liberal education. Each fall, in the
week before classes resume and the academic year
is upon us with full force, we invite a senior
faculty member to address the entering
first year class and transfer students. Assembled in Rockefeller
Chapel with his or her thoughts about liberal education, its
meaning and value to our lives. The general title
accorded to these talks is adapted from Alfred North
Whitehead’s famous lecture on the aims of
education given in 1916 as a presidential address
to the Mathematical Association of England. The Annual Aims lecture
began as a student initiative in the college in
the early 1960s. And over the decades, it’s
become a sturdy and even venerable part of our
common and shared history. It is thus part of that
system of shared values and our common
citizenship that I discussed in the
course of greeting you in this chapel several days ago. The first Aims of
Education address was in fact a series of lectures
on liberal education held in 1961 and 1962. An important feature
of that event was the participation of
Robert Maynard Hutchins. Who returned to campus
for the occasion having been retired from the
presidency of the University of Chicago for nearly a decade. Hutchins spoke here in the
chapel in the spring of 1962 before an audience
as large as this one. And he spoke as he as he had
always done as president. He had been president of
the university for 30 years. Before an audience as
large as this one– and he had spoke as he
had done as president. He spoke in 1962 in defense
of liberal learning. During his presidency,
Robert Hutchins gave decisive shape to
the traditions and ideals of liberal learning that
still animate and inspire this college. It is fitting that we honor
his memory on this occasion in this chapel. And the Aims of
Education addresses are now published in Hutchins
honor thanks to generous gifts from alumni who celebrate
his role in shaping our culture and our ideals. I should also mention that
it is a central feature of this particular ritual
that the Aims speaker is given absolutely no instructions
or substantive guidance from the dean of the
college or anybody else other than
affirming forming her or him of the time and place
at which this lecture is to be held. To be invited to deliver
the annual Aims address is a considerable honor, but
also a daunting challenge. And it is no accident
that most if not all of the Aims speakers in
the past have been colleagues. Not only esteemed
as formal scholars, but also as brilliant teachers. Our speaker this evening is
Deborah Gorman-Smith the Dean and Emily Klein
Gidwitz Professor of the School of Social
Service Administration. Dean Gorman-Smith is
both a distinguished and an engaged
scholar who serves as the principal Investigator
and director for the Chicago Center for Youth
Violence Prevention. One of six such centers in the
nation funded by the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention. She’s also a great teacher. Her highly original
program of research aims to advance our knowledge
about the origins, risk, and prevention of
aggression and violence, particularly among minority
youth in urban communities. She has led several important
longitudinal studies of these topics including a
study for the United Nations on violence against children,
which produced recommendations for consideration by the member
states of the United Nations. Her extensive publications
have explored the connections among youth violence, community
characteristics, and issues of family functioning. Beyond her impressive
scholarly contributions, Dean Gorman Smith is also
a deeply inspiring teacher a mentor who has guided
countless students, thousands of students, at the School of
Social Service Administration. And also now in the college
to connect their commitments to serve the most vulnerable
members of our society with the most rigorous and
creative tools and habits of scholarly analysis. Starting this year, the
School of Social Service Administration,
or SSA we call it, will expand its engagement
with college students by sponsoring a minor in
Inequality Social Problems and Change, which will introduce
undergraduates to the tools and methods of the SSA. As well as to the superb
teaching of faculty like Deborah Gordon-Smith. Great teaching lies at the
heart of the central purpose of our university. The efforts of our faculty
over the past century to create and to define this
great university’s teaching traditions were often complex
because they not only involved structural formalities,
but because they were infused with a very strong
compelling sense of pride, and a profound sense that
our work as educators would have a dramatic
impact on the resilience of the fundamental values
that define this university. That is to say that the
vocation of teaching has come to define the
highest and best nature of this institution. It is thus a great
pleasure and a high honor for me to introduce
a great teacher. My distinguished
colleague and friend Deborah Gordon-Smith, who
will deliver the 2019 address on the Aims of
Liberal Education. Deborah. DEBORAH GORMAN-SMITH:
Good evening. I’m going to try
that one more time. Good evening. Thank you. So first, I want to
apologize to the people doing the closed captioning
because they’re going off script for a second. And I also want to
apologize to all of you. I’m so sorry that my back
is to you for all of this. So I just want to
apologize in advance. So it is my deep, deep
honor to be here tonight. And I want to thank Dean
Boyer for inviting me to give this address this evening. My 18-year-old self
could never have imagined that I would be
delivering such a lecture or frankly, that I would be
working at such an institution. Like many of you here, I was
the first in my family to attend college, and among the first
to graduate high school. My mother dropped
out of high school because she had to
get a job and work. My father joined the
Air Force immediately following high school. The first in his
family to graduate. And then he worked in a factory. And when those jobs dried up,
he became a diesel mechanic. My mother drove a
school bus for 35 years. It’s a really long
time to drive a bus. They were the hardest working
people I’ve ever known. Often working multiple
jobs to make ends meet. And despite their
incredible efforts, living paycheck to paycheck. And sometimes not quite making
it to the next paycheck. A college education for them,
and for me, was seen as a path to more stable and
less stressful life. And it worked. Life is more stable. I’m not sure about
less stressful because I’m super
stressed right now. But certainly it’s less
economically stressful. But of course, the
impact of my education was so much more than that. And here I am in
front of all of you– more than 1,700 strong. It’s really cool to look out
from this space representing all 50 states more than 100
nationalities, languages, and dialects. And more than 200
students who like me are the first in their
family to attend college. Congratulations to all of
you for deciding to study at this great institution. As Dean Boyer said,
when you’re invited to present the Aims of Education
little direction is provided. It’s one of the many great
things about this university. That there are no
prescriptions for how this is supposed to go other
than it better go well. Like all of you, we as
faculty are encouraged to think critically, question,
pushed the boundaries of our chosen field,
challenge, argue, and I would say
argue respectfully, and not be constrained by
others perspective about how an issue should be approached. As I read through previous
Aims lectures in an attempt to find some winning formula,
something that was incredibly humbling but also a rare
treat and a reminder of the amazing intellectual
capacity capital here at the University, I found
that there was no formula, there was no style,
or set of messages. Or even necessarily
agreement about what the Aims of
Education should be. So this is my
version of the Aims. A version that includes
a bit of my own journey, and some help from the women
who the School of Social Service Administration Or
SSA as we call it because it’s really hard to
say school of social service administration over
and over again. Everyone in this room recognizes
what an enormous privilege it is to receive an education
at the University of Chicago. All of you could have
chosen to attend any number of other institutions. But you chose to
come here knowing that this is a distinctive
place, a place known for academic rigor, its
seriousness of purpose, and its commitment to
freedom of expression and critical inquiry. This university
has been committed to the foundational
principles of liberal learning that offer students the skills
of critical thinking, writing, and argumentation. And it believes
that these skills will serve to continuously
enrich your lives long after you leave here. This place is the
life of the mind. I would also argue that one
of the Aims of Education is or should be to
learn how to be wrong. I start with this
one because they think it’s one of the
hardest things for us to. To work hard, to
immerse ourselves in information and data,
to think critically, to examine an issue or idea
from multiple perspectives, and to simply be wrong. I say this as I
reflect on my own path as a researcher
conducting studies to understand the factors
that put youth at risk for involvement in violence. And to use those data, combined
with theory, and experience, and practice, to design
and test programs to prevent youth from
becoming involved in violence. My colleagues and I learned
a lot over the years. And I’d like to think
we advanced the field, and made important scientific
contributions to understanding the impact of violence and
children’s development, and the factors that increase or
decreased risk for involvement. And I’d like to think that our
research helped change policy and practice. We developed some programs
that had impact, and had positive effects on children’s
development and outcomes. But sometimes over the course
of that work, we were wrong. Our hypotheses
were not borne out. Our programs didn’t work. And when that
happened, it was really difficult to take that in. We questioned the data. Where they coded correctly? Were they analyzed correctly? Who put in the data wrong? What if we tried something else? But in the end, after
searching for some way to prove that we
were actually right, it turned out that we
were just plain wrong. And it’s really
hard to be wrong. Particularly when you’ve spent
your life up until now working really hard to be right. But it’s important to
learn how you can be wrong, misled, or mistaken, and
to use the knowledge you obtained from being wrong to set
yourself on a different course. One of the great debates
in higher education focuses on the role of
a university in relation to the community
and world around it. Is the academic institution
a purely intellectual place for the purpose of enrichment? Of is it one that
has a responsibility to use knowledge for impact? Dare I say to make the
world a better place? I believe, and I
will emphasize this, the privilege of an education
comes with a responsibility not only to enhance
your own life but to arm yourself with
the skills and inclination to use your knowledge
and education to make a positive difference
in the world. Here on campus, there
are ample sources to acquire those
kinds of skills. This year marks a
remarkable moment in undergraduate education
at the university. For the first time, all parts
of the university, all schools and divisions, are engaged
in undergraduate education. The University of Chicago
is distinct in having undergraduate education focused
in the college, including a core curriculum. But also offering
students the opportunity to take courses offered through
any unit, division, or school across the university. So includes the law
school, the Harris School for Public Policy, Booth,
the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering. And now, as you heard, SSA. And why is this significant? Why was this so important? We faced an increasingly
complex world. And I realized the
exact same thing was said when I entered college. But it’s true. The world keeps getting
more complicated. There is no one
discipline that has the answers to the kinds of
complex issues you will face. And when I say face
I don’t necessarily mean ones that you will face
in your chosen profession. But issues that we face simply
by existing in the world. Despite advances in technology,
research, and economic growth, society continues to struggle
with seemingly intractable social problems including
violence, poverty, economic instability,
homelessness, and educational inequality. At a time when
cities are reemerging as hubs of creativity
and innovation, large segments of
the urban population are being excluded
from the benefits of this urban renaissance. The city of Chicago, your
new home for many of you, clearly represents
the challenge. Our thriving downtown is starkly
juxtaposed with neighborhoods that have been impacted by
years of structural racism, residential segregation,
and social and economic disinvestment. Urban and rural areas across
the country and around the world are experiencing this same
challenge of inequality, and confronting the
myriad social problems that stem from it. These are not just problems for
politicians, or social workers, or housing advocates,
or urban planners. These are issues for all of us. How many of you have families
that were just a little nervous about you attending a university
in Chicago because they feared for your safety given
all of the reports of violence? It’s a pretty good number. How many of you know
people who didn’t even apply here because
they were concerned about violence in Chicago? It’s a fair number of hands. First, let me tell you
that Chicago isn’t even among the top 25 most violent
cities in the country. Let me be clear, I am not saying
that violence is not a problem. In fact, as I said, this
is my area of research. And I’ve spent my
career and part of every single day for the last
25 years focused on this issue. Violence is a public
health crisis in this city and in this country. But there are two points here. Well, there are really
actually many points. But that’s a completely
different lecture. One is that data, facts,
research, and science are critically important. And also increasingly
challenged. You will be challenged here
to look beyond the headlines, to dig deeper, to
examine the data, to go to the original source, to
not simply take in information but to critically
evaluate that information. Second, none of these facts,
factors, or data points exist in a bubble. They’re all impacted by our
environment, our families, our friends, our neighborhoods,
and their social and political context. Think about where and how
you exist in this space. And think of the ways
this university can enrich your understanding
of your place here. Again, you have the
opportunity to take advantage of every school
department and division at this university. You can’t cover them
all while you’re here. But I encourage you to
use this opportunity. Every discipline
has blind spots. But also has the body of
knowledge and an approach that can change
your perspective, offer a new way to
think about an issue, or deepen your insights. We at SSA are thrilled for
the opportunity for greater engagement with the college. And I’m particularly
pleased because as you heard beginning this year,
we’re offering a new minor that gives you a chance
to take courses that focus on inequality as
social problems and change. In fact, the minor is called
Inequalities, Social problems, and Change. Pretty catchy. We look at the
interconnectedness of individuals, families,
and communities. And emphasize the ways
societal and structural forces intervene in the lives
of marginalized groups. Sometimes producing improvements
while other times resulting in unintended negative effects. If you choose to take any
of these courses offered through SSA, and a number
of other places on campus, you will be pushed to
think about the way social markers individually
and collectively influence inequities in areas such as
mass incarceration, immigration policy, access to health
care, political power and participation, and
physical and mental health among other issues. You will examine applied
analysis and novel social interventions from
across disciplinary fields. Because again, enduring social
problems cannot be solved by any one discipline
or perspective. From its start,
SSA has emphasized the need for
science and research as foundational elements
in social change. SSA was built by
visionary leaders who imagined a better world
and re-imagined a profession. Our founders knew
that change would only happen if rigorous research
guided practice and policy. And they knew that the
school they imagined could only happen at the
University of Chicago. I’m going to take
a sip of water. A little background about SSA. We celebrate 1908
as the birth of SSA. At that time, before being
part of the university, SSA was known as the
shortcut a Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. It would not become part of
the university until 1920. But from the start, the
school’s vision was unique. It didn’t just provide practical
training for caseworkers, or provide charity
or relief services. Instead, unlike other
schools of social work, SSA’s leaders had
a unique vision. They were committed to
conducting first rate research in such issues of poverty,
working conditions, education, and immigration. And they believed
this research should be the basis of an education in
social work and social welfare. The leaders insisted
that students have a solid foundation
in theory and research in the social sciences. But they also insisted that
work should be connected to and reflect the major
social issues of the time. They believed that
education didn’t just happen within the classroom
or the walls of the school, but also in the community. They wanted their training
program to be rigorous, and they wanted it to matter. They wanted their students
to have an impact on society. This vision started
the Chicago tradition of social work education. You quickly will
learn here there are many Chicago traditions. It happened during
the progressive era when the nation experienced
widespread activism and reform efforts. And this new vision was bold. It was a grand experiment. And it was led by women. This happened at
a time when women had little power in our society,
when a woman’s place was in the home confined to very
traditional roles of wife and mother, a time when women– these women. these women that started this
school, could not even vote. So who were the women
re-imagining a profession and driving this revolution? There were three of them. Sophonisba Breckinridge
and the Abbott sisters– Edith and Grace. All were visionaries,
both thinkers, and brave rebels of their time. They were activists, idealists,
and pioneers who imagined a more just and humane world. In the process, they
re-imagined a profession, and created a school grounded
in critical thinking, and scholarship, research, and
active community engagement. Sophonisba Breckinridge
was born into a distinguished and
prominent Kentucky family. And as was described as
the belle of the Bluegrass as a girl. A University Press release
announcing a reception to celebrate her 50 years of
service here at the university described her as the first lady
of the School of Social Service Administration
with the life story that is the fascinating
tale of feminine first. Among her lifetime
achievements, Sophonisba was the first woman with
the name professorship at the University of Chicago. She helped found the Chicago
chapter of the NAACP. Was an early member of the
National American Women’s Suffrage Association. And helped start the
Women’s Peace Party. Early in her life, Sophonisba
was among the first generations of women to attend college
graduating from Wellesley. As you might imagine,
opportunities for women in the late
19th century were limited. After graduating, she
described her life as confused. She seemed to wander
trying different things. She taught at a
girls school that was near to her sister’s
home in Virginia for a while. And prepared for a career
teaching mathematics. But she didn’t want to
stay there indefinitely. Eventually, she went
back home, studied law, and became the first woman to
pass the bar exam in Kentucky. Then in the summer of 1895,
she traveled to the Midwest to visit a Wellesley classmate
who lived in Oak Park. A suburb just west of Chicago– where I happened to live. It was a visit that
changed her life forever. She soon find employment at
the University of Chicago as an assistant to Marion
Talbot, the Dean of Women. She enrolled in the university’s
political science graduate program eventually
receiving a PhD. Again, the first woman
to receive a page in political science here. But after earning her PhD, she
faced limited and frustrating opportunities. She said, and I quote,
“I had opportunities to go to positions giving
higher rank and greater pay. But it seemed to me that
the university presidents were at the time more
concerned with the outsides of their women’s students heads
than with their gray matter.” So she chose to stay at
the University of Chicago, where as long as she
could stay connected with her mentors, university
colleagues, and the people who mattered to her most, she was
only too glad to scrape along. With the encouragement
of her mentor, Sophonisba enrolled as a
member of the first class of the University of
Chicago’s Law School. And became the first
woman to graduate from the law school in 1904. Armed with advanced degrees
and plenty of ambition, she was appointed professor
in the University’s Department of Household Administration,
which I don’t think exists anymore. Weighing just 90 pounds, she
was enormously busy, productive, and energetic. Here are a couple of
quotes that give you a sense of who she was. I quote, “The work
of the world is not done by going to bed
when you get sleepy.” She said, “Vacations are
an invention of the devil.” Just for the record, I don’t
agree with that statement. Vacations are a good thing. I encourage you to take them. And by now, we all know
what the research tells us about the importance of sleep. So I encourage you to sleep too. Before long, Sophonisba was
at the Chicago School leading the research department. She along with Edith
Abbott set about redefining the social work curriculum. Emphasizing that the
field needs to focus on public responsibility
rather than private donations. And that social
work training had to be rigorous and systematic. With this vision, the school
began training students to examine acute social issues
in our rapidly growing city. Adapting what she
learned in law school, Sophonisba introduced the
case method to courses. And soon students were
examining housing and juvenile delinquency. They analyzed the Cook County
Jail system back in 1915. Gathered data and housing after
the 1919 Chicago race riots. And examined the
economic status of women among many other things. Issues that today
still challenge us. In 1920, the Chicago School
of Civics and Philanthropy became part of the
University of Chicago. So in addition to her
intelligence, energy, and talent, Sophonisba was
strategic and political and masterminding this merger. Maybe even a little wily. That is, she recognized
an opportunity wouldn’t allow her to reach her goals. Case in point, the president and
the Chicago School of Civics, Graham Taylor, was
lukewarm when the idea of a merger with the University
of Chicago was floated. Sophonisba on the other hand,
was much more enthusiastic about aligning with
the university. She and Taylor often
disagreed openly and bitterly about this idea. Then Taylor went on vacation. Not a good idea. And Sophonisba finis bell was
appointed acting president seizing the moment. And with Edith Abbott
support, and the benefit of Taylor’s absence, Sophonisba
relaunched discussions about the merger
with the university. And along with Julius Rosenwald,
a trustee of both the school and the University
of Chicago, you can guess what happened next. Taylor returned from
his two month hiatus to find merger discussions
in rapid motion and moving toward completion. He was furious. And I’ve seen the
letters he typed. He was furious. And accused Sophonisba
of treachery. But in Sophonisba’s
view, the merger was something in the
nature of emancipation. And for the work it
means weakening nowhere and strengthening
at many points. Besides, Sophonisba wasn’t
afraid of a little conflict. She was known to
say I would rather have a good fight any afternoon
even if I got beaten then to go to a party anytime. As I mentioned, she
wasn’t a fan of vacations. And likely didn’t look so
fondly on Taylor taking one. But the merger
was controversial. Even friends in the profession
made dire predictions. But Sophonisba was steadfast. Edith Abbott also expressed
this clear vision saying, “Only in a university, and only
in a great university, could a school of social work get
the educational facilities that advanced
professional students must have if they were to become
efficient public servants of democracy.” I’ll shift now and talk about
the two other SSA founders Edith Abbott and her
younger Sister Grace. Both sisters were
fighters and came from a family of activists. Their father was Nebraska’s
first lieutenant governor. Their mother, a
Quaker, was involved with the Underground Railroad
and the women’s suffrage movement. Both sisters lived in Hull House
members of a vibrant settlement house by Jane Addams surrounded
by other female activists. Each sister searched for
and found distinct ways to express her own
activist’s values. Together they were
a unique team. Edith, more academically
and theoretically inclined. And grace, a more public
and pragmatic figure. Edith was appointed
the first dean of SSA. Becoming the first female
dean of any graduate school in the United States. And it happened here at
the University of Chicago. And it’s fitting that we
celebrate her achievements because she was born
today, September 26. So it’s Edith’s birthday. Edith was also U Chicago
alum having received a PhD in economics here. She studied at the London
School of Economics, taught at Wellesley, and
then accepted the chance to work at the Chicago School
of Civics and Philanthropy. This move stunned colleagues
who couldn’t understand why she would give
up a prestigious post to work as an assistant
director promoting social work education. But either Edith viewed
the move as a chance to build on and advance
her economics education, and expand her social
theories and interests. Edith always believed that
the school needed a connection to a university. She said, and I quote, “A
good professional school of social welfare not only
needs a close connection with a good university, but
the modern university also needs such a school.” Edith recognized
the fine balance needed to integrate theory,
evidence, and practice. And the need for
hope and confidence in finding solutions. Saying, “Social workers
need to be thinkers. But they should be
idealists as well.” As soon as Edith was
appointed dean of SSA in 1924, she began making
innovative changes integrating the
university’s resources, and continuing to
remake and re-imagine the profession and the
training of social workers. As a forward thinker,
Edith believed in a more nuanced understanding
of social problems. Complex problems required
complex solutions. She championed an
interdisciplinary approach to curriculum that was
unheard of at the time. Students were required to have
a solid theoretical foundation of the Social
Sciences, the ability to understand statistics,
a solid understanding of the historical and political
causes of social problems, as well as an understanding
of the legislative and making process I will add here
that Edith as an economist strategically and
intentionally built a school around a
multidisciplinary faculty. An intellectual tradition
that continues that SSA today. This is a school that has,
and always has included, a faculty and social work,
psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science,
public health, economics, and more. Because again, different ways
of thinking, knowing, and being are valuable. Bringing multiple disciplines
under one roof in pursuit of shared goals but sometimes
taking paths to get that get there makes us better. To further advance the
school’s dedication to scientific inquiry,
Edith along with Sophonisba launched a scholarly journal
the Social Science Review that would spotlight the
research and evidence based practices of current
investigations. She was the journal’s
longtime editor. And we’re pleased to continue
that tradition today. Edith and economists was known
as a passionate statistician, but she was also a
successful collaborator. Applying her work
in the real world. She helped establish
the Cook County Bureau of Public Welfare. And worked to reforms
that would end the exploitation of immigrants. During her career she remained
a demanding and apparently a sometimes scary teacher. But her devotion to her
students was unshakable. She said, “I sometimes break
appointments with others. But never with students. For students are
really important.” Edith’s younger sister, Grace,
was on the front lines fighting for children’s rights, was
one of the most powerful women in government in her time. And was named as one of
America’s 12 greatest women in 1931. She’s served as the chief
of the US Children’s Bureau, was the first woman nominated
for a presidential cabinet post– the Secretary of Labor
for Herbert Hoover– and the first person sent to
represent the US at a committee of the League of Nations. Grace was a woman a
fascinating contradictions. Something you might not
be able to find today. She was a lifelong
Republican Party member, and a lifelong liberal activist. She was a native and a
Nebraska plains frontier who spent a good part
of her adult life living among poor immigrants
in urban Chicago. And she was an unmarried
woman described as the mother of America’s
43 million children. Early in her life, she taught
high school in Nebraska, then attended a summer
program at U of Chicago, and subsequently moved to
Chicago to study full time. Also graduating with a
PhD in political science. And while still a
student, she the Juvenile Protection Association. She had an amazing
career trajectory. Think of this, at age 29
she was still living at home with her parents. Working an unassuming
job as a high school teacher in Nebraska. Then she moved to Chicago, got
her PhD, lived in Hull House with her mentor Jane
Addams, she became a courageous, bold,
and defiant advocate. Speaking up and seeking out
ways to improve the lives of children and immigrants. She became director of the
immigrant’s Protective League. And became the first
person appointed by the US to a committee of
the League of Nations Then she was appointed the chair
of the US Children’s Bureau leading a national fight
against child labor. So in just a little
more than one decade, Grace went from
modest schoolteacher to being the most powerful
and highest ranking woman in the entire US government. In so doing, she became
an important role model for future generations of
women in public service and leadership positions. And perhaps, not surprisingly,
male politicians at the time attacked Grace and her
trailblazing efforts. Calling her a quote,
“Menopausal maniac with the Mussolini Complex.” Among other things. But she was also defended
by Eleanor Roosevelt, who called her one of the
greatest women of our day. And at her death,
other lawmakers paid homage to Grace
and her achievements. Saying that Grace’s
influence would extend to future generations. Not only in our own country,
but in many parts of the world. One congressman
said, “To me, there was something about
Grace Abbott which always suggested Joan of Arc.” This is quite a legacy. And not just for SSA or for me
as dean, but for the university and for all of us in this room. This was true for
several reasons. But two of note. First, the University
of Chicago was one of the few places in
the country at the time that would embrace women as leaders. Second, this school
reflected an important aspect of the vision of a
great university. That education is not
just for the purpose of enriching the lives
of the students coming through these doors. But for those who come through
these doors to also use all that is gained for
greater impact. So what lessons can we
learn from the experience and achievements of
these three women? What did they have
to do with education and the experiences
ahead of you now that you’re at the
University of Chicago? I would offer a few. First, take the long view. We face a world with
extreme challenges that requires nuanced
and imaginative thinking with few shortcuts. Think about SSA’s founders
who imagined a better world, and re-imagined the profession. Some called it a
great leap of faith. But they believed
that change could only happen through rigorous research
to guide practice and policy. And it didn’t happen right away. Some of the founders took
various securities paths to get where they ended up. They got shot down, and they
had to deal with naysayers. They scraped by sometimes. But they found their way. And in the end, they
created a school, redefined the education
training and research of social work and
social welfare, and impacted the lives
of children, families, and communities across the
country and around the world. Be open-minded and prepared to
use your talents and patience to find solutions. Be active, use your
agency, and engage. Second, passion and a
good heart are not enough. Of course, passion
and commitment are important elements
to driving change. But passion and good intentions
just don’t get you there. You need critical
thinking, decisions based on research and evidence. Because meaning well,
simply meaning well, without informed
analysis is not enough. Third, learning and knowing. A lot of the most important
learning you will do will occur outside
of the classroom. I may be one of the few people
here that will tell you that. You have a mix of talents
and exceptional resources surrounding you. Learn from faculty. But also learn from fellow
students, staff, and people who you meet in the community. Seek out new experiences. Engage in the many student
organizations on campus. Volunteer. Explore Chicago neighborhoods. Some of your most
memorable learning may occur outside of the
classroom in discussions with your friends while
you’re writing the L North to a baseball game. And I did say north. Or to a museum,
or new restaurant, or while walking to a
local school to volunteer. Push yourself to try things
there out of your comfort zone. Be present, and be thoughtful. And finally, optimism,
engagement, and debate. Learning, growing, challenging
yourself and others, and creating change are
not for the faint hearted. Sometimes it’s a
lonesome endeavor. Edith Abbott understood
this very well when she said, “It’s not easy
to find charts and lights. And you will go forward
alone much of the time. Often there will be no
traditions to carry you on. Only an open road.” We have a tradition
of academic freedom and free expression at
the University of Chicago. We recognize that debate
is necessary to challenge the status quo– to advance causes
knowledge and innovation. Those values allowed SSA
founders to flourish and shape a profession. Each of you is here
for an education that enhances your capabilities. This place is about
rigorous inquiry and learning how to
evaluate and confront uncertainty, different
viewpoints, and new ideas. Often the discussions
will be uncomfortable. But as Hanna Gray, a past
university president said, “Education should
not be intended to make people comfortable. It is meant to make them think.” As they look out, I
see a group of students who came to the
University of Chicago with different backgrounds and
different sets of experiences. But regardless of the
factors that led you here, you came here with common
values and ambitions. We all came here wanting
to engage and learn in a culture that uses
knowledge and critical thinking to examine issues, find
answers, and may do something to shape the world and have
it look as we wish it to be. It can be hard and
demoralizing sometimes to read the news of the day
or recognize the slow progress on so many issues. But looking out at all
of you, Class of 2023, I’m extremely
optimistic and uplifted. Welcome to the
University of Chicago. Take the long view. Think ambitiously. And as Edith Abbott
said, “Continue to keep your sense of idealism.” Thank you. Good luck. goodnight. JOHN BOYER: I want
to thank Deborah for her highly informative
and indeed highly inspiring remarks. It’s our custom that we will
divide, return to your houses, and continue the
conversations about the Aims of liberal education. I and all my faculty
colleagues wish all of you are safe, productive, and a
very stimulating academic year. Goodnight and good luck.

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