Dean Scott Miller oversaw the graduation of 183 students from the College of Humanities, sending them off well-equipped to make positive changes in the world.
PROVO, Utah (August 14, 2015)—Students flow in and out of Brigham Young University, entering with eyes and ears wide open and then leaving – barely recognizable – ready to serve with all they’ve seen and heard. In his first convocation as dean of the College of Humanities, Scott Miller congratulated the recipients of 154 bachelor degrees and 29 graduate degrees, calling the event a time of ritual and rejoicing.
Miller praised the students for their achievement, reflecting that the road for them had been long and difficult from the very start. “The journey to this place has been punctuated by a series of struggles and challenges, and none have come through unscathed,” he said. But despite the trials, all have come out stronger and shaped by their experiences, like the subject of Walt Whitman’s poem, “There Was a Child Went Forth”:
There was a child went forth every day.
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.
“Like Whitman’s child,” Miller said, “our graduates have gone forth into the world.” Thanks to their wide-ranging educations, they have become – for weeks or semesters at a time – botanists, chemists, mathematicians and more, seeing the world through the eyes of each discipline they’ve studied. “By learning to see things anew with a fresh perspective,” continued Miller, “your graduates have fortified themselves – intellectually and spiritually – to make a difference in the world.” Or, as Student Representative Emily Snow explained it, to build Zion.
Snow, who graduated with a B.A. in art history and curatorial studies, described her fellow graduates as well fit for the call to “cultivate Zion in our homes, literally and figuratively.” She said, “Our education in the humanities uniquely empowers us to create a society wherein learning, creativity, and community abound.”
She continued, “We have the knowledge and skills to discern and create that which belongs in our homes and in Zion.” She recalled the words of both Brigham Young and William Morris, who envisioned a world in which all individuals contribute to art, education, and beauty, and are edified in return.
Thinking of the graduates’ journey to apply their knowledge in the larger world, associate professor of Classics and Comparative Studies Cecilia Peek compared the students to Odysseus. Sailing past the sirens, Odysseus orders his men to stop up their ears with wax so as to avoid being enchanted by the sirens’ song and led to crash on their rocks. He is the only man aboard his ship to hear the sirens, though he is tied fast to the mast of his ship for the duration of the passage.
“Notice,” Peek said, “that he does not survive by simply avoiding the experience. His ears and eyes are open. He is fully engaged. He listens. He delights in the song, and he does, I believe, go away knowing – as the sirens avow – more than ever he did.”
Peek likened the sirens’ song to a humanities education: beautiful but dangerous if left unrestrained; just as Dean Miller had explained, every topic of study had a profound impact on who the students ultimately became. But just as Odysseus survived by being bound to the mast of the ship and helped by his men, so too have the graduates survived by being bound to their faith and supported by their friends and family.
Like Odysseus, these graduates have only passed through one adventure to begin another, more capable than ever before. Dean Miller echoed this sentiment when he answered the oft repeated question “What can you do with a degree in the humanities?” simply asking in turn, “What can’t you do?”
—Samuel Wright (B.A. American Studies ’16)