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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Faculty Convocation -- Fall 2006

Georgetown University
October 12, 2006

Each fall we take an hour or so ... and we remind ourselves of our deepest convictions. We come together in an intentional and self-conscious way, and we focus on the character that differentiates us as a community.

In a ceremony that has taken place here as long as any of us could ever remember, we gather together and consider the purpose of our work here at Georgetown. We privilege these moments in order to reflect upon our shared commitment to the mission that has been the purpose of this University for 217 years.

In these moments, we celebrate the virtues and values of our membership in the Academy ... and of this unique academic community. In these moments, we don our gowns, which have their roots in the 13th century ... we march to a song of the 9th century ... we hear our charter, which was written in the early 19th century ... and as we enter this room that was constructed in the late 19th century ... we are surrounded by icons of two millennia.

One of these icons, the most significant and prominent on the wall behind me, is the motto of the Society of Jesus. Ad Majorem dei Gloriem, "for the Greater Glory of God." These words remind us that we came together in this community connected by this common purpose. That second word, "Majorem," is the root of the Jesuit phrase "Magis," meaning "the more." This phrase captures the deepest conviction within the Society of Jesus that our work should always be guided with the intent of doing more ... of accomplishing more ... of serving more ... of achieving more ... of being more.

And as we reflect on the philosophy of "Magis," of constantly working to accomplish more, to achieve more, and to serve more, we are compelled to recognize those members of our community who are entering the next step in their scholastic pursuits. We had the occasion to honor those members of our faculty who have been recently promoted and tenured, and tonight we celebrate their achievement and their renewed dedication.

It is also in this context that I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the twelve members of the Georgetown faculty who over the course of their careers have been awarded Guggenheim Fellowships. These fellowships are awarded to professionals who have demonstrated exceptional ability in the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and creative arts. These fellowships are intended to give gifted people the opportunity to work with as much creative freedom as possible.

Those Guggenheim scholars who are with us this evening, would you please stand?

Please join me in showing our appreciation for their remarkable efforts and extraordinary scholarship.

Nearly 200 years after the founding of the Society of Jesus, this, the first Jesuit University in this country, was established, and we took as our motto Utraque Unum: Both into One. This was our way of interpreting ... in our own context ... the guiding principle of the Jesuit Order. These words appear on the scroll in the eagle’s mouth on the shield of the University. These words, Utraque Unum, comes from the epistle to the Ephesians. The passage from which the two words are taken tells of the oneness of Jews and Gentiles:

“Once you were far off, but now in union ... he has made the two one ... and has broken down the barrier of enmity which separated them ... so as to create out of the two a single, new humanity.”

In many respects, no phrase other than Utraque Unum can better capture the dynamic nature of this moment in the life of our University. A moment when we are wrestling with the forces of globalization ... when we are trying to respond to demands to be more engaged in the world ... when we are attempting to meet the responsibility of public scholarship ... and when we are acknowledging the changing dynamics within the disciplines, particularly within the life sciences, where a fundamental shift in paradigms is unfolding.

All of these dynamics, I think, capture the essence through which this motto of ours, Utraque Unum, comes alive in this moment.

  • We both create culture, and we critique culture.
  • We work within the disciplines, and we work at the boundaries of the disciplines.
  • We both construct knowledge, and we discover knowledge.
  • We pursue the most basic research about the most fundamental building blocks of our knowing, and we pursue public scholarship at work in the world.
  • We embody both a commitment to the whole person, and we provide a context for the “limit” experience.
  • We treasure the past, and we build for the future.

I can think of no better way to celebrate these dynamics than by coming together like this and having an opportunity to witness to one another the values we share in this community.

Before introducing our distinguished guest, I would like to step back for just one moment and offer a word of congratulations to one among us -- Dean Jane McAuliffe -- who I think, in her own way, has embodied the motto of the Society of Jesus, of always striving to do more, in her life and her career. Earlier this year, one of the most significant of our learned societies, in fact the oldest extant learned society in the United States, the American Philosophical Society, selected new members.

To put this in perspective, the American Philosophical Society was founded under the impetus of Benjamin Franklin in 1743. The American Philosophical Society is highly selective. It currently has 900 members. It is unusual among learned societies because its membership is comprised of top scholars from a wide variety of academic disciplines.

This past year, one of our own was selected for membership. For her scholarship and her teaching, both for her work as the Editor of the five volume Encyclopedia of the Quran, and her leadership of Georgetown College, I wish to just take this moment, in this setting, to recognize this exceptional achievement of Jane Damman McAuliffe, Dean of Georgetown College.

And now I would like to move to the main event, where we recognize tonight’s honoree. A year ago in this session, we honored an intellectual leader in the Sciences, Shirley Ann Jackson. Today, with our recognition of Edward Hirsch, we have someone who is eminent in the Arts.

As we convene in this extraordinary place of history, I would say that the Arts has an enduring role in the academy, in Georgetown, in Jesuit understanding of the human person. Georgetown has a particularly strong interest in poetry -- many of our past and present faculty are distinguished poets, and in our relationship with the Lannan Foundation, we have been able in recent years to bring renowned poets to campus.

Given all that Mr. Hirsch has accomplished in this field, it is quite interesting to trace back to where his passion began. At the age of eight he wandered down to his basement and was picking through some of his grandfather's books when he read a verse from Emily Bronte's "Spellbound." In later years, he read from Pablo Neruda's "The Heights of Macchu Picchu" on the second floor warehouse of Wertheimer Box and Paper Company, sharing a copy of the work with several Puerto Rican workers with whom he would feed corrugated cartons through giant iron machines.

These sorts of moments and experiences with poetry were catalysts, igniting a passion that drew his deep engagement and evolved into a career of distinction.

His first collection of verse, For the Sleepwalkers, (1981) received the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets, and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award from New York University. His second collection, Wild Gratitude, received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1986.

He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985, a five-year MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1987, and the William Riley Parker Prize from the Modern Language Association for the best scholarly essay in Proceedings of the Modern Language Association for the year 1991. His recognition of the importance of engaging others in his passion is clear -- his best-selling book was titled "How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry," and became a bestseller in 1999.

From there, he worked to ensure that other scholars would have the resources to pursue their own passions. As the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, he has worked to enable others to fulfill deeper engagement in a variety of scholarly fields. Dr. Hirsch's experiences, his scholarship, and his leadership of the Guggenheim Foundation bring a valuable perspective as we consider our own course for Georgetown.

We are truly fortunate to have a scholar of such distinction with us today, and I am privileged to have the opportunity to present our newest alumnus, Dr. Edward Hirsch ...

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