Steve Charles—As editor of Wabash Magazine, I have the luxurious responsibility to listen and read carefully the words spoken here; to convey to you those that, at least in my opinion, you, as a member of the Wabash community, should read.
In wrapping up the Summer 2008 issue of the magazine, I’ve been re-reading (and re-reading again) some of the words spoken at this year’s Commencement and Big Bash. Our students, faculty, alumni, honorary degree recipients, and administrators said some compelling things during those weekends. In an edition of the magazine that’s mostly photographs, I worry that some may get overlooked.
So as the magazine goes to press, I thought I’d walk a few of those words out here at FYI. One or two at a time.
First, National Book Award winner Tim O’Brien (author of The Things They Carried, Going After Cacciato, and In the Lake of the Woods), who spoke briefly during the honorary degree luncheon. Relatively few people get to hear these extemporaneous remarks from our honored guests—the only time they speak to a group during their stay. As both former President Andy Ford and President Pat White noted that day, our honorary degree recipients “don’t bring words; they bring lives.”
Remarkable lives, yes. But their words are pretty good, too. Here’s O’Brien thanking the College for his honorary degree:
“I am the aging father of a two year old and a four year old, and in a way I look at this honorary degree as a gift to them. It is my hope as a writer that—way beyond bombs and bullets and the material of Vietnam—when they are 18, or 19, or 20 years old, and I might be long gone (after all, hearts go still, and life is fragile), that they might read my books, and in the space between those vowels and consonants, they might hear their father’s voice—the kid I once was, the man I am now, the old man I’ll soon become.
“My stories are not really about war, but about the human heart under pressure. They’re stories about families, fathers, sons, and human courage, and it’s in that spirit that I thank you for presenting this degree to me.”
In photo: Professor of English Tobey Herzog in his garb as faculty marshall with friend and honorary degree recipient Tim O’Brien on Commencement Day. Herzog has written about O’Brien in three books and teaches his works in courses at Wabash.