We are preparing in two days to graduate 5,900 students into a life of career and contribution during an era of harsh and acrimonious national debate that often sidesteps the issues confronting us at the sacrifice of the common good.
As we mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War and the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, we can learn from the tribulations of those nationally defining events as we suffer the tenor of today’s national tone in problem solving.
Fifty years ago today, a group of 13 young black and white civil rights activists boarded interstate buses in Washington, D.C. to embark on Freedom Rides to test a Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation. They were met with mob violence, beaten and imprisoned.
It took us more than a century after the Civil War to begin to heal the social strife, ill will and acrimony that divided our nation. Hopefully it won’t take another hundred years to mend the divisions enveloping our nation today.
We are living in a world fueled by personal attacks, digital sound bites, unsubstantiated declarations and unproductive showmanship. By contrast, at the University of Colorado Boulder we want to give our students the tools to engage in healthy discussions and civil discourse as part of their problem solving skills as citizens in a global society.
How? In and out of the classroom at CU, students experience the diversity of humanity — of thought, background, race, class, religion, geographic origin, and in dozens of ways that echo the diversity of the world. They also learn to value the similarities that tie all of us together in a common humanity. Students take that talent for understanding and dealing with differences into a workplace, and into a world, that needs it desperately.
I differentiate between the value of CU and the values of CU. Value is Payscale.com and Forbes.com rating a CU-Boulder bachelor’s degree among the top 20 degrees in the nation for graduates’ earning power. It is USA Today and the Princeton Review ranking CU-Boulder a top-five best value in American higher education based on cost, quality of education and financial aid.
Values are something else. It is CU-Boulder as No. 1 in the nation in Peace Corps participation by graduates, or the fact that nearly half our students participate in community service every year. It’s our student-led sustainability initiatives. And our civil discourse in the classroom.
As the Civil War drew to a close, President Lincoln in his second inaugural address said, “Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds… to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves….”
Civil debate results in solutions to problems. And that’s a value our graduates take with them.
Philip P. DiStefano is chancellor of the University of Colorado Boulder.