In the era when the loudest opinion on any subject is often deemed the best, the head of the group that made Centre College the host of a vice-presidential debate for the second time had a simple message for the school's 2012 class: listen.
Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, urged graduates to practice what has become a lost art.
“While the reasons for being a good listener seem to be obvious, perhaps it is appropriate to review them, for as a nation we are arguably out of the habit,” Brown said, noting the difficulty of learning without listening.
Brown, who was awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters, has become familiar with the college and President John Roush, whom she worked with on the 1992 presidential debate at the University of Richmond and the 2000 vice-presidential debate at Centre.
Brown feigned disappointment that she and other honorees at Centre had missed their chance to “run the flame,” a tradition where students streak from their dorms to a sculpture on campus.
For a generation of students who came of age connected by all manner of electronic communications, Brown said it is also important to de-emphasize personal pronouns.
Although she acknowledged the ways in which technological advances have enabled valuable kinds of communication, Brown said the proliferation of social networking as a conversation platform has made much of the dialogue me-centric.
It “also has encouraged a huge volume of expression that starts with ‘I,’” said Brown, who lamented how the practice has overflowed the virtual world and begun to overwhelm other important conversations.
“If they could be weighed, the references to the first person singular on social media sites would sink all of Division III,” she said, referring to Centre’s athletic division.
Brown said the emphasis on individual interests, along with reluctance to try to understand differing points of view, are destroying chances to learn.
Actual listening will be especially important as many graduates prepare for the debate and some exercise their right to vote for the first time, she said.
Brown urged the graduates to pay attention to what candidates truly believe about issues that will impact their lives in decades to come, so they will be prepared to fully appreciate the exchange of ideas during October’s debate.
“The decisions taken by public office holders will effect you in countless ways,” Brown said. “The economy in which you will seek to find a job, the health care you will be able to afford, the transportation system you will use, the number of police officers that will serve your community.”
The college also bestowed honorary degrees to Joe Rooks Rapport and Gaylia R. Rooks, who together serve as the only husband and wife rabinical team in Kentucky at Adath Isreal Brith Sholom in Louisville. Their son, Lev Rooks-Rapport was a member of the Class of 2012.
Among the honors for the college’s largest ever class of 285 graduates were numerous Fulbright Fellowships. Brian Klosterboer and James Ransdell were awarded research grants, while Harrison Chalmers, Maria Lohr and Nathaniel Spears got Fulbright teaching assistantships.
Louesa Akin received a Goldwater Scholarship.
Local graduates receiving degrees were:
Bachelor of Arts
Lindsey Marie Beaven, Harrodsburg; Rachel Danielle Beckman, Danville, magna cum laude; Trish Bright Bredar, Danville, magna cum laude; George Handy Ensminger, English prize; Laura Aiden Clay, Danville; Richard Cooper McGuire, Danville; Mason Wayde Meredith, Harrodsburg; William Pearce Nesbitt, Danville, magna cum laude, John R.S. Brooking Prize; John Harold Rucker, Lancaster; Jordan Leigh Wilkinson, Stanford; Tyler Lee Wilkinson, Stanford; and Nicholas John Winkler, Danville.
Bachelor of Science
Alexis Elizabeth Anderson, Lancaster; Loran Elizabeth Crowell, Salvisa; Anika Helene Gooch, Stanford; Bryan Christopher Lindsey, Harrodsburg, cum laude, the computer science prize; Caroline Page Stroup, Danville, cum laude.