Moen: 'Live a contemplative life' Sarah Merrigan leaps with joy, diploma in hand, as she descends the steps of Slagle Hall following Sunday afternoon commencement exercises for the VHS Class of 2004. by David Lias Dr. Matthew Moen, dean of the College of Arts and Science at USD, urged members of Vermillion High School's Class of 2004 to discard trivial aspects of modern life.
"So many things are trivial and I encourage the graduates to simply let them go. For instance, fret little if you are not wearing Southern For All Mankind jeans, or Charles David shoes. These things are used in our consumer culture to measure worth, but your worth is not measured by them.
"Care little about Dr. Dre. or the Beastie Boys. So many of our pop music icons take away so much from our society: The time and the money of our young people, the dignity of our young women and the gentle element of the human spirit. They make our society coarse, and relatively few of them give back in proportion to what they take.
"Compare them to the local teacher who inspires the love of learning, the farmer who feeds thousands or the nurse who comforts the afflicted and then tell me who is the hero."
Moen told the graduates that a gift given to each new generation is the power to begin the world anew.
"Think how often the world has been recreated by different or successive generations," he said. "The agricultural revolution launched by our ancestors virtually ended nomadic ways of life. The French Revolution with its sudden violent political impulses conclusively ended the European aristocracy. The Industrial Revolution gave birth to mass production, consolidation of capital and vast individual fortunes."
The digital revolution, though we do not understand it at this point, Moen said, is reshaping the frequency and the form of human communication.
"Today you begin your collective journey to shape the world as you see fit," he said. "I send you off with a reminder that much has already been given by others to you. You are the beneficiaries of the wisdom and sacrifices of parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, neighbors and community leaders. "You are, by virtue of growing up on the plains, part of the fabric of a great people whose culture has much to teach about respect of elders, care of this earth and concern for generations to come," Moen said.
Sunday's graduates are inheritors of a great national prosperity, he said, and are recipients of a grand heritage of Western Civilization, a tradition
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that centuries ago replaced kings chosen by family bloodlines with rule by law with liberty, freedom, equality and individual rights.
Moen reminded the graduates that they need to look no farther than their own lifetimes to see the incredible potential for change awaiting them in the world.
As the VHS class of 2004 was growing up, the Soviet Empire collapsed, he said. Computers that once filled an entire room have been reduced to the size of a cellular telephone. The space age has progressed symbolically from the moon all the way to Mars.
"You live in a fairly cynical time, when not even a photograph is a believable record of history because any kid with microsoft and a little bit of time can create fictionalized images," Moen said. "You live in a somewhat polarized time, where people seek out information that confirms what they think rather than challenges what they think.
"You live in a a troubled time, when nation-states clash with trans-national religious ideologies," he said. "But you may not live in the most dangerous time. That undesired honor would probably go to the early years of the Cold War."
He urged the graduates to not succumb to the somewhat odd messages of today's popular culture.
"We're bombarded with messages with how to sculpt our hair, our triceps and yes, our rear ends," Moen said. "People spend millions of dollars trying to create insecurities in our mind about how we look.
"Well, do what you want, do the best you can and let the rest of it run off of you like water off a duck. Not one of you is worth a bit less because you do not fit a prime time paradigm."
Moen reminded the graduates that even as popular culture changes, the value of a contemplative life endures.
He said that since becoming a father he has thought a great deal about this and future generations.
"When I do so, I usually slip out of any temporary disquietude caused by the turbulent events of the day, and I find myself gaining a relentless sense of optimism," Moen said.