Steve Lubar's Commencement Address - Congratulations MA in Public Humanities Class of 2015

May 28, 2015

Graduates, Families, Friends,

What a pleasure it is to have you gathered here today to celebrate the graduates of the public humanities program. They – you – are a remarkable group.

As is the case each year, I find myself enormously impressed with your accomplishments. You have created projects from here to Hong Kong to India to Atlanta to Texas; from the RISD Museum to the Granoff Center to the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice to Rhode Island Hall and the Annmary Brown Memorial; from Fox Point to Olneyville to Central Falls. You have done work in art, music, history, art history, natural history, media studies, and so much more. You have created oral histories, exhibitions, radio shows, performances, websites, courses, a vast array of community programs…

Like I say, this is a remarkable class.

I went back to read my remarks from when I first met this class, the advice I offered you for your time at Brown. (My remarks are on the public humanities center blog, if you’ve somehow forgotten…) I spoke then about differences between the workplace and the classroom – about the ways in which taking a class, while necessary preparation for work, is not the same thing as work. So much of what goes on in the workplace, I said, was really meta-work – the work of figuring out what to do, how to do it, how to work with with others — thinking of the big picture at the same time you focus on the details. I suggested then that you needed to keep that in mind, over the next two years, as you read and wrote and thought and created — that you should treat your classes as a kind of work, not just as a class; that you should think about products, and the importance of working with each other, and with the subjects of your work, and your audiences.

Looking back over these last two years, I think you have done a pretty good job of balancing the work of being a student with the work of being a professional. You’ve learned new things, new approaches, new understandings – while also thinking about that meta-work, the work of working.

And so it is proper, now, to flip what I said two years ago around, and offer you the other side of that advice. I said then you should keep work in mind while you were in school. Now, I want to urge you to keep school in mind while you’re in work. You have to focus on your jobs, yes; but I hope you will also build on what you’ve learned here, and keep learning, keep trying new things. I hope you will maintain your sense of adventure and excitement.

For the promise of public humanities, the ideal of public humanities,  is to bring life and learning together – for your audiences, but also for you. I hope you will continue to be thoughtful practitioners, practical people who can get today’s job done while also continuing to be students, in the broadest sense of that word: thinking about what will be needed tomorrow, keeping up on the literature, open to new ideas, always seeking new ways of connecting people, ideas, and communities.  

Thank you.

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