I have heard numerous valedictory speeches by high school, college, graduate, and post-graduate students over the years, but none has stuck with me except the one I heard this past June by Dwight Morrow High School's 2013 Valedictorian, Abdool Gafoor. I was attending my younger daughter's graduation. In his speech, Mr. Gafoor observed that he had essentially followed a path determined for him by the various institutions in society whose primary objective was to prepare him for the work force. In effect, he was pursuing not necessarily his goals but the goals of corporate entities in society. He bemoaned the fact that he did not take the opportunity to pursue other interests in the Arts or in Sports, hence making for a more balanced educational experience. He also observed that the very fact that he was the Valedictorian, with his many hours of extensive study and sacrificing of times for socializing, underscored society's value vis-a-vis formal education and its primary goal of producing individuals to serve the corporate world.
The goal of education, formal education, ought to be the freedom and liberation of the individual, society, humanity. I am talking about an education in which critical thinking is learned and practiced. Having an "education" itself does not fulfill that goal, for there are many people with diplomas and degrees who are anything but critical thinkers. The critical thinker eschews dogmatism and intolerance. The content of our many of our text-books and a lot of our instruction belies the notion that critical thinking is our primary value. Read our history texts carefully and you will see what I mean. Dogmatism takes precedence over dialogue, superiority over sameness, conquest over co-existence, profit over people, reckless consumerism over responsible citizenship. Well done, Mr. Gafoor. Your speech offered much food for thought.
[Photograph by Bernadette Marciniak - Click here for link to photo]