For Class Day, Havel fits our unstable world

My roommate has begun to read the New York Times as a portent of a coming apocalypse. Reading the newspaper’s continual description of tragedy and disaster, she has become convinced that a redemptive election season must soon appear. She’s the apartment’s optimist.

As things continue to fall apart in Iraq and the United States continuously bungles North Korea, the global geo-political situation is grim. And in all our talk of unconventional weapons, we’ve lost sight of a host of other problems from AIDS in Africa to poverty in America. When I entered college in the fall of 2000, the twilight of the Clinton years still promised a more progressive future. Three years later, the world feels unstable. My friend occasionally still taunts me with his dual U.S./Canada citizenship, but as I am quick to remind him, these days Canadians don’t have too much to gloat over either.

Of course, things probably wouldn’t seem quite so bad if I wasn’t waking up every morning with a sinking feeling about my own life. Despite my adviser’s best efforts, my senior essay feels stalled, which is more than I can say for my job search. After all, something can only be stalled once it has begun.

It’s not that I’m aimless. I have a plan for next year, and some exciting ideas for the long-term. But there’s something frightening about the way these ideas are taking shape in a way that has meaning. It’s one thing to be 15 and have friends who want to be doctors. It’s something else to be 21 and have friends actually going to medical school. We’re on the verge of crossing a giant chasm. We’re beginning to make decisions about our lives that are permanent, and we are making them in an unstable world.

My parents, with infinite sensitivity, are already making reservations for graduation. (My brother is graduating from high school the same day I graduate, and since we live in Phoenix, things are actually quite complicated). They began pestering me with planning questions in June, and I can still barely answer their questions without raising my voice. Whose idea was it for graduation to turn into Parents’ Weekend 2 any way? The vision of my family descending on campus the same weekend that I’m evicted from my home and say goodbye to my irresponsible youth is more than I can stand.

As I brace myself for the G-Day, I realize that there are a few things that will probably make the weekend more bearable. With little question, by Sunday morning of graduation weekend, I am going to be in desperate need of good advice and good humor. With all due respect to Thomas Friedman, I am certain I will not be in the mood for anecdotal analysis of the Middle East. George Pataki might be a nice guy, but he’s not someone who can really help me make sense of our crazy world.

As we are flung out of Yale, the least the University could do is make sure that we end our Yale career with some useful synthesis of our lives and our world. With these problems and this criterion in mind, I think we should invite Vaclav Havel to be our Class Day speaker. Havel — the absurdist playwright and former president of both Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic — is a public intellectual in the best sense of the word. As a leading dissident voice of the Eastern Block and a humanist who remains committed to a more socially just world, Havel appeals to a wide spectrum of our class. In his speeches and essays, Havel has written about his struggles with the some of the problems we all will be asked to confront as we exercise various degrees of power in the world, but he has also exercised power on a grander scale than many of us will — especially in the next few years. I think we have much to learn still about how we should use our education to change and affect the world, and I think our project over the next several years is to figure this all out.

As we graduate and look forward to our futures, I would suggest we hear from someone who understands the power of the present.



Erin Scharff is a senior in Pierson College.

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