sealPurdue News

August 4, 1996

Purdue president reminds graduates about being civilized

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University President Steven C. Beering during commencement ceremonies today (Sunday 8/4) reminded students how a civilized people develop.

Approximately 930 Purdue students were eligible to participate in commencement ceremonies conducted in Elliott Hall of Music.

Beering recounted a story how anthropologist Margaret Mead responded when a student asked how she knew when an ancient culture had become civilized. "You might think, as that student did, that the answer would be the discovery of a bit of pottery, or a tool, or a sign of the development of agriculture," Beering said. "But Dr. Mead had a surprising response. She said she knew that an ancient people had reached the point of becoming a true society whenever she found a healed femur.

"In other words, the first step to civilization is an act of human compassion, and it becomes the foundation to all the great achievements of humankind. Art and literature, science and philosophy, the building of cities and the education of youth all begin with a simple act of caring and kindness in some distant prehistoric wilderness."

Beering noted that compassion for other living things sets human beings apart from other animals capable of killing and destroying.

"Mankind, through the use of technology, has learned to inflict death and devastation at levels far beyond the abilities of even the fiercest predators ever to walk the earth, but our genius for destruction has been tempered with the capacity to feel compassion, to appreciate beauty, to understand humor, to choose between good and evil." Beering said. "And with this power to choose comes an obligation to use our great gifts responsibly and humanely. The insects cannot decide to spare the meadow, and the lion knows only one way to kill. But the human being commits a great wrong by acting with wanton cruelty or inflicting unnecessary damage on the earth that we all share.

"It is through the cultivation of our minds that we achieve the ultimate expression of our humanity. When rain falls from the sky, a small child immediately observes that it makes things wet and later that it makes things grow. But soon the child is wondering: Where does the rain come from? What makes it stop? When will it rain again? Now you know how meteorologists are born.

"But as the questions become more complex, so do the means of answering them. We find the answers through a system of education that begins in the home and culminates at a place like Purdue where students have the opportunity to interact with, to be challenged by -- and to challenge -- the best minds in their respective disciplines.

"You have met the sternest tests of a great university. There still is much learning ahead of you. Your Purdue experience is a foundation upon which you can build a lifetime of education and professional achievement. You have discovered something about your chosen profession, but even more, I hope about yourself, your own potential, and what it means to become truly civilized."

This was the 169th commencement ceremony at Purdue. The university has been recognizing summer graduates at the West Lafayette campus every year since 1984.


Source: Steven C. Beering (765) 494-9708

Writer: J. Michael Willis (765) 494-0371; Internet,