For my students, congratulations, on completion of this academic semester and accomplishing your responsibilities successfully. Do not let anyone fool you into thinking that today’s college challenge is an easy one. I see how it becomes more and more demanding of college students with each passing year. I see how my daughters’ experience in high school and grade school has become so much more rigorous than when I attended those institutions. Working at a college, it seems most days I observe some further pressure to justify college curricula to a demanding American populace.
This is the first full academic year I have taught since Spring 2012, and I will confirm that I am exhausted, as is expected of those who study and research at a college university. We’ve discussed the concepts of ‘mental labor’ and ‘wallowing in complexity’ several times in class. Understand that these necessary concepts will not cease after the semester concludes, and likely, the expectations will follow you into the workplace after graduation.
If you’ll remember at the beginning of the semester, I read you a letter in which I wrote about my character as your instructor. I’d like to read to you at the conclusion some simple concepts, related to our study of rhetoric and argument. It’s my hope that students retain some lessons after this class concludes, especially as it pertains to the importance of ‘character.’
1. Do No Harm to Others. Over the course of this semester, I have revealed some personal experiences and engaged in some honest conversation about some heavy, somewhat depressing concepts of argument. It’s my hope that students realize that what we say and write has the potential for causing harm to others; in fact, it is often the use of rhetoric that becomes a primary cause of harm, personally and professionally, globally and locally. If rhetorical analysis of oh-so-many opposing viewpoints can teach us anything, then it might be how we find indignation, frustration, and injury from those who choose to engage in these arguments. Use rhetoric consciously and ethically, by first and foremost realizing the harm that your words can cause, if used unethically and reflexively. This shows a rhetorician’s character.
2. Use Patience in All Things. This is a personal mantra, reciting it aloud prior to stepping foot on campus, each and every day. I’ve found that patience must be utilized to be successful in college, and life in general, to be honest. Patience is the ultimate solution to many problems, and it is perhaps the most difficult principle to apply, especially within this instant-gratification, stress-inducing culture in which we operate. If you sometimes feel overwhelmed or freaked out by your life, then using patience might be the remedy you need.
3. Analyze the Rhetoric Around You, and Make Decisions for Yourself. Do not accept any notion, idea, or claim, simply because someone in a position of authority tells you to believe it is true. Consider how we found such disagreement over concepts like ‘fact’ and ‘truth’ this semester. When your supervisors, your politicians, your news broadcasts, your internet sites, or even your long-haired, kooky college English instructor tells you something, be sure to scrutinize the claims made for your own understanding. Make decisions about ideas and beliefs based on your own facilities of analysis. I assert that this is a primary objective of study in my rhetoric courses: agency for my students to analyze and respond to rhetoric.
4. Appreciate How Relevant Rhetoric Is to the Culture About You. When I wrote this letter, the word ‘Culturati’ was dictionary.com’s Word of the Day. It stands for people who are deeply interested in cultural and artistic matters, and I hope some of you can count yourselves as a member of the Culturati. I admit this is not as vitally important as the former point, but I still believe that it is important to appreciate the subjective concept of beauty, as it is applied to the human condition. I hope that I’ve been able to share one or two culturally-relevant texts, retained and appreciated later in life by former students.
5. Think Like a Writer. I remember one conversation with students this semester vividly. When asked how to write more extensively, my answer was that you might think about what you are writing when you are NOT writing. Think about it when you’re by yourself driving, before you fall sleep, or when you’re watching TV or surfing the net. Talk about your writing project in conversation with friends, or ask your family to tell you what they think about it. Think about it more often, and think like a writer. Paraphrasing one student’s utterance: “You must be crazy.” That student may indeed be right, but sometimes you have to think ‘outside of the norm’ if you want to write successfully.
Have a great summer to all, and look me up in the future if you return to campus for some good conversation and camaraderie. Thank you for your efforts.
Scott C. Guffey, M.A.
3 May 2015