"The Wisdom and Courage to Change the World: 2009 Founders Scholars"
IU Bloomington Honors Convocation
March 29, 2009
Introduction: The Spark for Revolution
In his essay “History,” the great American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “[e]very revolution was first a thought in one [person's] mind, . . .” 1 Phrased slightly differently, we might say that the individual provides the spark for revolutions in thought.
This idea is especially important to remember in our increasingly global culture where transportation, technology, and economic networks connect billions of people around the world every hour of every day. Even in the best of times, it is easy to feel small—even insignificant—in such a world. In times of greater uncertainty, such feelings can increase dramatically.
After all how much difference can one person really make in such a vast and complex world?
Making a Difference in a Vast and Complex World
This is a question that you, as the inaugural class of Founders Scholars, already know how to answer. Here in Bloomington, you have tutored children, served as mentors, and led a remarkable diversity of organizations. These local efforts make a difference one person at a time, one group at a time.
But as IU’s finest students, your ambitions match your achievements, encouraging you to think on a broader scale. You have helped extinguish smoking across the university. You have fought for human rights in Dafur. And you have established a micro-loan program to help combat global poverty. Of course, these are a mere snapshot of the difference our Founders Scholars have made over the course of their years at Indiana University.
Simply put, one person can make a world of difference.
Revolutionary thinkers throughout the centuries have known this as well. We need only look to thinkers like Copernicus, Charles Darwin, and John Maynard Keynes to see the revolutionary spark within the individual.
The heliocentric universe of Copernicus was considered blasphemous though it sparked the Scientific Revolution in the sixteenth century. Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, presented the sustained scientific case for evolution, another concept considered heretical at the time. And Keynes’ macro-economic theory about the importance of government spending during recessionary times flew in the face of the then-prevailing laissez-faire theories, which advocated only minimal government intervention.
The Common Language of Logic and Reason
Each of these revolutionary thinkers based their ideas on observation, analysis, and synthesis. Each spoke the common language of logic and reason that grew out of the very best educations from what were then the world’s best universities in Bologna, Padua, Edinburgh, and Cambridge. Each transformed their knowledge into wisdom that guided their efforts and shaped their arguments.
You are learning that same language of logic and reason at Indiana University where you have honed your abilities in argument and reasoning, have developed flexibility of mind and skills, and have broadened and deepened your own knowledge.
The knowledge you are gaining here will lead you towards wisdom.
But of course, sparking a revolution in thought takes more than a shared language.
It takes courage: courage to suffer a thousand failures, courage to break with the past, courage to speak. Even in the best of times, it is easier to sink into the status quo than to sand away the jagged grain of old ideas; easier for many to surrender to silence and fear than to give voice to new ideas that just might change the world.
In more challenging circumstances, like those we face today, our desire for safety often increases in direct proportion to the uncertainty of the world around us. But we cannot remain in safe harbors if we aim to make a difference in our world. We must continue to venture towards the horizons of knowledge that represent change and possibility.
We must take the same risks that our own intellectual ancestors have taken—like Copernicus, Darwin, Keynes, like Curie, Carver, Newton, like Confucius, Banneker, Unamuno, and so many others.
As Founders Scholars, with records of sustained academic accomplishment, you already know the pathway towards innovation, discovery, and achievement. You must share your knowledge with others to help ignite an era of change and prosperity. Such is the weighty but rewarding responsibility that comes with your education.
Given voice, your intellectual passions can help shape our world.
IU President Myles Brand
At Indiana University, Myles Brand follows in the great tradition of IU presidents who have made a transformative difference in the life of this institution.
Under his leadership, IU embarked on the most ambitious long-range planning effort in its history, quadrupled its endowment to $1 billion, and tripled the number of endowed faculty positions to its current leadership position among Big Ten institutions.
Of course, close to my heart was Myles’ determination to make IU a national and international leader in the area of information technology. Quite frankly, Myles Brand is the reason I am here, so I owe him my personal gratitude. Myles helped secure $30M from the Lilly Endowment for the Pervasive Technology Laboratories, strongly supported IU’s path-breaking enterprise license agreement with Microsoft, and oversaw the creation of the School of Informatics, the first new school at IU Bloomington in over 25 years.
Myles’ leadership in IT equaled his commitment to the life sciences at IU. He is responsible for the major focus that IU and the state now have on the life sciences. He led what was then the largest privatization effort in the history of the state: the consolidation of the Indiana University and Methodist Hospitals, including the Riley Hospital for Children, into Clarian Health Partners in 1997â€” now among the nation’s largest and most highly ranked health care systems. He also helped spearhead efforts to secure what was the largest grant ever made by the Lilly Endowment: $105 million for the Indiana Genomics Initiative in 2000. 2
Anticipating the university’s increasing productivity in information technology and the life sciences and corresponding potential for commercial impact, Myles created Indiana University’s Advanced Research and Technology Institute in 1997 as a vehicle to promote technology transfer and augment the university’s contributions to the state’s economic future. Later renamed the Indiana University Research and Technology Corporation, the IURTC manages, licenses, and protects the university’s intellectual property and operates our incubator facility in Indianapolis. Later this summer, we will dedicate a new 40,000 square foot incubator facility here in Bloomington. The home of the Pervasive Technology Institute and a host of life science companies, this facility will truly symbolize Myles’ continuing impact here at Indiana University.
During his tenure at IU, Myles’ strong leadership also extended to intercollegiate athletics, and that has continued in his role as president of the NCAA. As in all other areas, Myles’ actions in relation to athletics have been driven by his integrity and his dedication to the best values at the heart of American higher education.
As most of you know, this brief overview of Myles’ professional accomplishments only begins to scratch the surface of his innumerable achievements. I have not mentioned his support for IU’s Arts and Humanities programs, his role in the Central Indiana Life Science Initiative, or his strong support for racial and gender diversity at IU. I have not mentioned his work in developing the Tempe Principles on Scholarly Publishing and Archival Development or his leadership in the AAU. I have not mentioned his numerous honorary degrees, his Sagamore of the Wabash Award from Indiana Governor Frank O‘Bannon, or then-Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson’s proclaiming December 5, 2002, “Dr. Myles Brand Day.”
Even with these, we only have a glimpse of the tremendous impact Myles has had on American higher education.
To complete Emerson’s statement with which I began, “Every revolution was first a thought in one [person’s] mind, and when the same thought occurs in another [person], it is the key to that era.” 2
As Indiana University’s finest, you hold that key.
Guided by wisdom, may you have the courage to use it.
- Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “History.” 1841. Essays: First Series. Philadelphia: Henry Altemus, 1894. 7-39. Page 8. Emerson originally used what was in his time the accepted gender neutral reference “man’s mind”; these remarks will use “person” as the comparable contemporary gender neutral reference.
- Emerson’s “History.” Page 8.