A while back I quoted Hillary Clinton’s now infamous speech right before the New Hampshire primary because I believed in the sentiment she expressed there. Today’s quote is actually from yesterday and it comes from Barack Obama whose sentiment moved me just as much:
“Washington today is a place where good ideas go to die”
– B. Obama
And I would add that what he said in response to claims that he needs more seasoning, more experience, and more time on the Hill to be a serious candidate echoed in my bones.
“It’s as if all the cynics are saying we need to season and stew him a little bit more and boil all of the hope out of him so he smells just like every other politician.”
– B. Obama
I have to tell you, when he said that, it reminded me of something I was told in Graduate school: You aren’t getting out of here until we are sure we have put our stamp on you. Followed by the person making a fake stamp with their hand and hitting me dead center of my forehead. It was only slightly less disconcerting than what I was told in undergrad “You are either from the elite or going to the elite and there is nothing you can do about it.” Both sentiments require a level of conformity that may be required of the profession but certainly is not required of free and complex thinking.
What moves us forward as departments, institutions, and nations is the ability to speak across difference and honor, truly honor, the knowledge and the life skills that each of us brings to the table no matter how different, exuberant, or even scary they may seem. In academe, as in politics, knowledge and experience do matter it is not, as some juniors and students might argue, simply a point of ageism. However, newness can be a real blessing in both venues and coupled with an experienced cohort (be it cabinet or fellow faculty) it can be a force beyond imagining. After all, why do we always gravitate toward candidates and scholarship that is “new” and “hot” if we don’t recognize that both help keep our tried and true methods, theories, and praxis relevant? In the same way the tried and true ensures we are grounded and not throwing out the baby and the bath water.
I often worry that the real concern is about difference and change (no not the soundbite “change” but actual change). And I think the momentum that word has created amongst college age and college educated people proves that diversity (not just identity but also of thought and process) is something that they are yearning for in their intellectual and political worlds. Until we learn that difference is not the enemy, we really will be left with the mush at the bottom of an over boiled pot.