Xuanlin Li '17 shared the following address with his fellow graduates and their families along with the McCallie faculty at Commencement for the Class of 2017. Li will attend the University of California at Berkeley.
Good Morning! I am very grateful to stand here on behalf of the class of 2017, and I am very grateful to see many faculty members, alumni, families and friends who are here today.
Today is the day of graduation, and it is fitting to once again hear the mission of McCallie: Honor, Truth, and Duty. The word that particularly stands out to me is Truth.
Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian Civil Rights movement, once said, “Nothing is or exists in reality except truth … And where there is truth, there is also knowledge which is true … Where there is no truth, there can be no true knowledge.”
When we were born, we had no prior knowledge of this world we live in. Thus, it is necessary that we spend our entire life seeking and collecting knowledge to assemble our world view. Desiring to seek truth as do many of you, I would like to share several aspects of my understanding on this issue based on my eighteen years of life experience.
I believe that a great obstacle that might restrict us in our current striving for knowledge is fear. We sometimes feel ashamed to acknowledge our mistakes in front of others, as we tend to value our self-esteem too much. We fear to admit we are wrong, thus turning to resist other opinions and persuade ourselves we know what we actually do not know. We are more comfortable assuming ourselves infallible; but, no one is ever created perfect, and everyone makes mistakes at certain points in life. We are usually humbled by people who are more knowledgeable than are we, which is usually our opportunity to open our heart to the outside world and step forward.
The second form of fear originates from our lack of courage to question. We might often fear to be embarrassed about asking questions that appear silly, but our seeking of truth often involves certain inevitable but temporary forms of suffering, and these questions are often essential to our understanding of knowledge. Dr. Michael Goodman, a religious professor at Brigham Young University, said, ‘questioning must never itself be an end.’
One pitfall we need to avoid is to doubt other opinions whenever they differ from ours. Granted, in a world with so many distinct philosophies and views, it is critical for us to judge the incoming information before accepting. However, there are two contrasting attitudes of questioning. Either we put our honest effort to seek truth, and thus we inquire about the credibility of evidence and reasoning that support other opinions, or alternatively we simply fear to put down our self-regard and acknowledge our fallibility, so we automatically reject the differing views. Clearly, the former leads us to true knowledge, while the latter leads us astray.
To elaborate on the more essential aspect of questioning, the source of wisdom largely depends on our innate ability to think and to reason. When we allow our intuition to overwhelm rationality, we are easily susceptible to misleading information. There are fake news intentionally designed to create panic or conflicts, there are criminal deceptions specifically targeted at individuals, and there are false beliefs easily accessible on the internet that intend to contort our world views.
Words in the skin of truth, just as wolves in sheep’s clothing, might be emotionally appealing, but lack evidence or solid logical reasoning. Thus, questioning and close examination are important tools to filter the information we receive. As we work to verify the credibility of information, we might discover evidence that the truth is contrary to the belief of many. The spread of such discovery is indeed an important component on our path to progress collectively.
As I close, I find particularly relevant the words of Suzy Kassem, an American writer and philosopher:
“We awaken by asking the right questions. We awaken when we see knowledge being spread that goes against our own personal experiences. We awaken when we see popular opinion being wrong but accepted as being right, and what is right being pushed as being wrong. We awaken by seeking answers in corners that are not popular. And we awaken by turning on the light inside when everything outside feels dark.”
My hope for my fellow students and for all here is that we strive to awaken ourselves in our lives.