On May 14, I had the honor of being awarded a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship at my home institution, The University of North Dakota. I was asked to give a short speech–about a minute long. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say except for one phrase “always talk about the elephant.” This video is the result.
I gave the comments spontaneously; I was not reading my remarks. Below is the transcript. Thank you everyone who asked me for copies of the text.
“Thank you President Shafer. Thank you everyone on stage. I’d like to thank the faculty for this nomination and I would like to thank the students for the honor—every day—of getting to explore the world with all you. I was asked what advice I can give in a brief 60 seconds and also moved by the fact that this is the last—any maybe the first—time any of you have ever paid attention to me. I wanted to know—I wanted to figure out—what it was that I could give this particular group of students, in this region, in this school—what Ideas that I can give them to move forward that perhaps someone else might not. I want to summarize it in one sentence: always talk about the elephant.
What I mean by that is that we all now the expression “the elephant in the room.” The elephant in the room is the thing we want to talk about but are afraid to. The thing with the most power. The thing that can dominate and break us all down, and what I would like to suggest was the unifying factor in my career is, that I always talked about the elephant in the room. Even when I was scared. Even when it was dangerous.
But the key to talking about the elephant is that it has so much power, you have to do it with kindness. You have to do it with generosity. You have to do it with the intent to heal and the intent for justice. And if you can do that, you will not only be respected by your peers, by your co-workers, by your family, you will also allow yourself to be respected by yourself, which will make you a better person, a better citizen, and a better family member.
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Bonus video: here is the president surprising me in class with the award. He totally freaked-out my students.