A Valedictory

"A Valedictory." Tri-Quarterly 1 (Fall 1964): 26-31. Also published in Encounter, March 1965: 57-60.


The Valedictory Address, as it has developed in American colleges and universities over the years, has become a very strict form, a literary genre which permits very little deviation. We all know what its procedure is. The chosen graduate begins with a conspectus of the world into which he and his classmates are now about to enter. His view of the world is not calculated to inspire cheer, it is usually pretty grim. He speaks of the disorder and violence that prevail in the world, perhaps even close to home. He speaks of the moral and intellectual inadequacy of society, of the dominance of personal self-interest, of indifference to the welfare of others and to all ideal considerations. This constitutes the first movement of the valedictory form.

In the second movement the speaker turns his attention to the graduating class in whose name he is saying farewell to their college. He remarks on the sheltered life which the members of the class have been privileged to enjoy for four years. He speaks of the intellectual and spiritual ideals which have been instilled into them and goes on to observe how these will be denied and assailed by that harsh world which is now to be the scene of their new endeavours. And then, in a concluding movement, the speaker urges his fellow graduates to hold fast to the virtues of the educated man and to try to exercise them in the hostile world which, in the degree that it opposes them, has need of them.

In short, the defining characteristic of the valedictory address is its statement of the opposition between the university on the one hand and the world on the other.

Unz.org - full text in Encounter