Teaching Excellence: Mary Pat Fallon, Dominican GSLIS

This spring GSLIS students voted for one of our faculty for the Excellence in Teaching award. The winner was Mary Pat Fallon. As part of the award, she gave a brief speech at commencement that really fired up our grads and the gathered faculty in the auditorium. She agreed to let me publish part of the speech here:

When I think of messages I think of one of my favorite quotes by Neil Postman, the late education scholar: “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”…….

No, my use of Postman’s words is more an acknowledgement of the fact that we were all children once; that we are all the living messages of our own upbringings and educations —–sent out into the world to be shared with others. ……..And I think it is appropriate on an occasion like this – a day when we send so many more living messages out into the world – and at a school like this – a Dominican University whose guiding principles are captured in two words: caritas and veritas – to ask ourselves:

what sort of message am I, and what sort of message do I wish to be?

Those of us who study the information sciences know that information is the heart of the message. No message can truly be a message if it is devoid of information. But the idea of messages is a bit more complicated than the mere acknowledgement of that.

Someone once said, “Knowledge is constructed of facts, as a house is constructed of bricks. But knowledge is no more a pile of facts than a house is a pile of bricks.”  A process is needed to organize those facts and we call that process education.

Education is what human beings have invented to organize, classify, categorize, preserve, and pass on information from one generation to the next, so that we have knowledge, not merely piles of facts, and so that we can create – and become – messages that hold meaning for the world.

Education ought to make us aware that all information is not equal. There is good information and bad information, useful information and trivial information, productive information and destructive information. And, of course, there is truth, and there are lies. ……………..There is a value to information, and part of the process of education is evaluation – determining the value of a piece of information.

You graduates here today, about to go forth to become living messages to the world, have been fortunate to attend a University that does teach the value of information, because it proclaims that very value as the standard to which all information must be held: veritas.

We’re all sorely tempted to be who we’re supposed to be, to do what we’re supposed to do, to know what we’re supposed to know, and to leave the revolutions to the experts. But the technological changes of the last generation – including all of the information technologies that link us together, scholar to scholar, mind to mind, and heart to heart – have delivered a revolution to our own doorsteps despite our very best efforts to be busy elsewhere.

We cannot escape global change and so we’re faced with a choice: to hide from it or to engage it. And in engaging global change, we respond to the other great guiding principle that rationalizes Dominican University, —–caritas. We must be concerned with our world and with one another in the days and years ahead because, whether we like it or not, we are all connected.

A week before he was murdered forty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., preached a sermon in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. He titled it, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” In it, he hit upon the very essence of the caritas upon which our University rests. He told us,

Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools…….. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly…… For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be—– until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be—- until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.

King’s message lives on because it is true; and its truth resides in its appeal to our compassionate love and concern for others.

And this, finally, is what I wish for you, what we all wish, we the faculty, staff, and administration of Dominican University:  to be living messages of caritas and  VERITAS,  of compassionate love and truth —-to a future we will not see; a future that’s expecting much less.

So as you leave Dominican University today to continue your lives as messages to a world your ancestors never saw, but your children and grandchildren will inherit, I urge you to take with you on your journey those two guiding principles, those two fundamental values which support this University: caritas and veritas.

I urge you to be not only truthful, but true—– to yourselves, to your values, to your world……. And I ask you, above all, to care. My heartfelt message to you is very precise:….. be a message of truth and a message love. 

Thank you and again congratulations.