Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A speech I wish I would have given

In September of 2012, I traveled to Brasilia to attend the Fulbright Enhancement Seminar where I presented and learned of the research of the 2012 Brazil Fulbright Scholars. On the final evening of our reunion, we sat around a dinner table and gave final words of farewell to our cohort. I came up speechless at the time, perhaps too overwhelmed with the experience thus far, but it is with the recent departure of many of the fellows that I find these words now, and would like to share them.

I once asked a professor the difference between going to law school and going to grad school. He said that law school is learning how to fight for the truth, and grad school was learning how to shine light on that truth. While I might argue that learning to shine that light can be a fight in itself, I guess the take away is that one is not more valid than the other, rather that they are just compliments to the same goal.

I think, rather ironically, that this Fulbright experience has shown me that I am not an academic, not necessarily because I don’t want to be, but because I’m not built for it. I guess I don’t have the patience or the ability to produce and comb through copious amounts of research, but contrary to my former opinions, I now see the validity in the products of academic research, and that your fight, is indeed to battle through all the moments of personal uncertainty to find something real, because that is what you all are essentially doing: creating some semblance of truth in this world. 

One person who has been a prevalent figure in my Fulbright journey is the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Once an esteemed economist, Salgado picked up a camera at the age of 26, and three years later decided he was able to communicate the messages he found in economics more effectively through photography than academics, at least for him. But I read once an interview with Salgado that made me finally understand why even though in most likelihood I will never become a full-time social scientist, the field of sociology has been so apparent throughout my life. He said that every photographer needs tools to their craft, and those tools are sociology, anthropology, psychology and economics, that those tools are what inform his photography and in essence what makes his images so captivating. I realize now, as a writer and photographer, that these fields are tools to me as well, but I cannot produce them. 

I leave that task to you, the future producers of knowledge, if that is indeed the path you have chosen. I know this may seem elementary, but I now see why these rigid rules of research and methodology are ingrained into the practice. They are there to ensure this truth. And I guess what I want to say is that that is how I view all of you now, as guardians of the truth, and I ask you, to protect that truth, because there are those of us whose lives depend on it.

This is the last time I will see some of you in the flesh. This is not meant to be a dramatic statement, but no, really, think about it, when do you think there will be another time where we will all be together in the same place at the same time? Given how life plays itself out and the inevitable emergence of new friendships and responsibilities, the odds are likely never. Think about that the next time you are with someone that you might never see again. After that final goodbye, they will no longer exist as a main character in your life, but only as a faint memory in the course of your continued existence. 

So with this as our last meeting and most immediate bond with one another, I want to say this to you in closing: It has been a honor, a privilege and most importantly, a pleasure, to have shared this year with all of you. Knowing there was another person perhaps experiencing a similar experience at a similar time in a similar place, made the journey easier when it wasn’t. So thank you for your work, your support, and your strength. I’ll carry all of those with me, in my own fight for the truth. 


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