Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Short Speech to the Graduating Class of 2013

Prometheus lives.

Apropos that you, soon to be alumni of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, are named Titans.  Overt in its symbolism that as Titans you are expected to make titanic advances to the human condition, but subtle in the suggestion that the Titans were humbled by lesser creatures, the Olympians.  It is both of these themes, seemingly at odds, that I wish to help impart a sense of challenge as you go forth to conquer the world in your respective disciplines.

Prometheus lives.

Prometheus, in the Greek tradition, is the god of many related activities.  Generally seen as the father of culture, art and progress through several acts he performed for the betterment of mankind.  He is best known for this theft of fire from Zeus, Chief of the Olympians, and subsequent transfer to humankind; an act that he was ultimately chained to a rock and each day an eagle, symbol of Zeus, would eat out his liver.  Most do not know that Prometheus was a key ally to the Olympians in their war with the Titans, which makes this particular betrayal especially cruel.

Zeus makes claim that if Prometheus had not stolen fire that humanity would not have had to work but a day to fill all its needs for a year.  What person was made better with no challenge in life, what accomplishments were ever achieved by ease and comfort?  I am reminded of the Eagle in flight.  The greatest barrier to the eagle in achieving it’s maximum velocity is wind resistance, the pushing of air against the eagle slows it down.  Yet, the primary principle that allows the eagle flight is resistance, without it the eagle would have nothing to push against to gain flight.  So too humanity struggles to achieve great heights in art, science and physical prowess, without the constant pressure of problems, solutions become meaningless.  Without solutions we cannot measure growth and without growth we have no evolution.  Not evolution in the simply physical sense but the capacity to change to a world that values people over process, community over self, intelligence over ignorance, peace over security and joy over happiness.

Each of you is Prometheus, his spirit lives in you.  As you go forth in life you will see cruelty, greed and ambition ruin the great works of many great people.  Weather it is in your job or your personal life each of you will be presented with opportunities to turn away from problems that are uncomfortable, challenges that seem beyond your capacity to overcome. 

My challenge to you is to steal fire.

As you strive to find equality in the world others will mock you, they will challenge your sense of purpose with barriers to why you cannot, or will not achieve your end goal.  Some may put up these barriers intentionally, seeking to stop you from sharing opportunity and knowledge with others.  This is the view of a modern day Olympian, strive for power-consolidate-oppress-keep the status quo.  These same Olympians, who challenged the Titans, won and then suppressed others to stay on top.  You can see examples of this in our modern day; privatized education, adherence to non-renewable energy, open access to the internet under attacked and the list goes on.  In all of human history it has been a struggle for us to continue to evolve beyond this cycle of gain power-consolidate-oppress.

Steal Fire.

Gift others with the opportunity to walk in the light of education, the beauty of art and the peace of a life free from hate, neglect and oppression. Open access to others with the choices you make, seek to find the lowest common denominator; the iron chain is only as strong as it's weakest link. Ignite the flame of human passion through your thoughts and actions. Stealing fire is a more a state of mind and a force of will than a specific act or set of guidelines to follow. Those that choose to face these challenges may be rewarded as Prometheus was, betrayal from those we thought our allies.  But we that make this sacrifice will be exalted among humanity as those that stole fire from the gods and help lift up a people in the vast dark.

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