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gabrielThe following is the text of the full University of Wisconsin Oshkosh 140th spring Commencement address delivered at the May 17 morning ceremony by Gabriel Loiacono, assistant history professor:

“Thank you Chancellor Wells and Ms. Reynolds.

“Hello graduates, faculty and staff, friends, families!  This morning, graduates, I will take the liberty of bringing congratulations from two groups of people, both of whom wish you well. First, on behalf of the faculty and academic staff, let me offer bittersweet farewell.  We, your professors, are happy to see you go on to new work or continued schooling and to apply some of the things you’ve learned here.

“At the same time, we are sad to see you go.  As teachers, we try to help you learn some of what we have learned.  But we also learn alongside you.  We read with you, we think with you.  You listen to US, in lectures, even in May when you would like to finally enjoy some sun outside.  We listen to YOU and read what you have to say.  Sometimes, you point things out we’ve never noticed, or you understand things in a way we never thought about.  We develop collegial relationships with you and grow to know the ways you think.  So, to say goodbye to you is bittersweet.  On behalf of the faculty and academic staff, let me say that we will miss learning with you.

“Now let me say a few words on behalf of another group of people.

“As a member of the faculty, I’ve brought you congratulations on behalf of the faculty.  As an Historian of the early United States, I think it appropriate to also bring you congratulations from the founding mothers and fathers of the United States of America.  That’s right.  I am here to tell you that George Washington says Hey – Good Job, Graduate!

“Now, obviously, I haven’t spoken with President Washington in a while.  But George Washington tweets every single day.  It’s true, you can find the big man on Twitter.  And I think I’ve read enough of his speeches and letters, and even his tweets, that I have a good idea what he and his fellow founders of the U.S.A. would say to you.

“In fact, I think what they would say to you is more or less what they said to the United States of America when it was young.  Think about it.  In many ways, you, graduates, are a lot like the U.S.A. was when Washington was President.  Born in 1776, the U.S.A. was, like many of you, in its 20s when Washington retired.  Like many of you, the U.S.A. felt very rebellious against its parent country, the British Empire, when it was young.  Again like many of you, the U.S.A. and Britain mellowed into a better relationship, a “special relationship,” as everyone got older.  Also like you, graduates, everyone wanted to give the U.S.A. advice when it was newly graduated from the British Empire.

“And perhaps you are familiar with this experience: EVERYONE’S ADVICE WAS DIFFERENT!  Fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, grandparents, family friends often have totally different things to say.  And, I’m here to tell you, the young United States can sympathize.  Everyone told it something different.

“Thomas Jefferson said: “you need to go into farming, man, farming builds character, it’s virtuous, everyone’s doing it, it’s the American way.”  But Alexander Hamilton said this: “farming?  Forget farming.  Go into banking, or commerce.  That’s the future of America.  And you’ll make money.”

“Thomas Paine said not to worry about a specific career.  He just wanted America to go out and set the world on fire.  Literally.  He wanted more revolution.  Phillis Wheatley urged us to love our imaginations and respect our neighbor’s freedom.  Abigail Adams said: “Remember the Ladies… be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.”  Her friend Mercy Otis Warren agreed with George Washington: stay away from political parties, they both said.

“Benjamin Franklin listened to that advice and his response was this: party? Did someone say party?  By all means, people, let’s party!  Oh, Franklin, that party animal.  He didn’t drink, and he worked hard, but he partied hard too.

“At this point, you may be wondering, do these Founding Fathers and Mothers have anything useful to say to you graduates, or to any of us?  Can they agree with one another long enough to give us some good advice?  Fear not.  As much as they disagreed with one another about many things, they tended to agree on two points, two pieces of advice that might still serve you well today.

“Now, as they gave advice to the young United States, they did not know what the future held.  The American republic was the first of its kind, and the founding fathers and mothers were unsure whether a republic could really last.  Could we protect ourselves from European armies?  Would we argue so much we’d just tear ourselves apart?  No one knew for sure.

“But, they thought, if we are going to survive, it will be because we act with VIRTUE, and we continue to appreciate LEARNING: VIRTUE, and CONTINUING EDUCATION.  That’s their advice.

“This July, the U.S.A. will be 238 years old.  Today, Americans are far more confident that the republic will survive.  Still, we too don’t know what the future holds.  What issues will dominate the headlines next year?  What kinds of jobs are going to be available to us?  What kind of job am I going to get?  Most of us don’t know.  Experts don’t know.  The Founding Fathers and Mothers certainly don’t know.  Yet they would still say: always try to act with VIRTUE and continue to appreciate LEARNING.  But what does that mean?

“Virtue, for the founding generation, was acting in such a way that your actions will benefit the whole republic.  Don’t think only of yourself: think also of the good of the whole, the health and survival of our whole community.  As Abigail Adams put it: “To be Good, and do Good, is the whole Duty of Man, comprised in a few words; but what a capacious Field does it open to our view…?”[1]

“On learning, Washington had this to say: “In proportion as… a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”[2]  Jefferson said: “The bulk of mankind are school boys thro’ life.”[3]

“In other words, graduates, your education is good for our whole community, our whole country, and keep up the impressive learning you’ve done here.  But for now, graduates, families, friends, I urge you to do as Franklin would do… PARTY.”

[1] John P. Kaminski, Ed., The Quotable Abigail Adams (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2009), 340.
[2] Ron Chernow, Ed. George Washington: Selected Writings (New York: Library of America, 2011), 374.
[3] John P. Kaminski, Ed., The Quotable Jefferson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 84).