Jon Parrish Peede, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) chairman delivered an inspirational address during the 2019 College of Arts and Humanities Convocation on Friday, May 17, 2019. During the ceremony, Peede was awarded the President’s Medal of Distinction by Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro.
California State University, Fresno – College of Arts and Humanities, 2019 Convocation Address
May 17, 2019
Jon Parrish Peede, NEH Chairman
APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION
Thank you, President Castro, for your kind words. Hello, Fresno State Class of 2019. Congratulations.
On behalf of my colleagues in Washington, DC, I want to thank you for honor of briefly addressing you. Notice that I said briefly.
My parents were the first members of their families to go to college. I am sure that they had their educational struggles, but they focused instead on the opportunities that came because of their degrees. Two generations later, my family still venerates a college education as the best way to ensure a fulfilling career—and the best way “to know thyself.”
I’m proud to state that the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded $1.4 million in grants to Fresno State. This institution and its dedicated faculty have earned it. And, based on the projects I just heard about before coming out here, we’ll be considering more grants in the future.
Our federal agency supports K-12 and higher education, museums and libraries, scholars and teachers and curators, and cultural infrastructure projects across the country. We are also proud to fund 55 state and territorial partners, including the remarkable California Humanities team.
When you watch a Ken Burns documentary on PBS or visit a major museum exhibition or study with a distinguished humanities scholar, you are experiencing the impact of NEH in your own life and community.
Like the Fresno State faculty, staff, and administration, my colleagues and I are committed to supporting a well-rounded educational system focused on the comprehensive development of graduates who understand what it means to live in—and engage in—a representative democracy encompassing diverse viewpoints and life experiences.
The sciences explain the makings of the world we live in, which is of critical importance.
But it is the humanities that explain why we live at all—and the manifold meaning to be found in that living.
The culture of the humanities is the culture of resilience—
it is the culture of knowledge,
of inclusion and diversity,
including viewpoint diversity.
It is the culture of creativity and innovation and empathy.
Contrary to media reports, the humanities are actually faring well in our society. The arts and culture sector contributes more than $804 billion, or 4.3 percent, to the nation’s gross domestic product. Our museums, for example, draw approximately 850 million annual visits—hundreds of millions more than all major league sporting events and theme parks combined.
The economic impact of the arts and culture sector is larger than that of transportation. Think about that as you sit in traffic surrounded by a sea of 18-wheelers. The creative economy is bigger than the movement of all goods on our highways, railways, skyways. We are the greatest engine of all; and the fuel we burn is renewable at the source; for we combust creativity—and it is healthy for our communities.
As the parent of a college freshman, I know that it is not enough that the humanities are a societal good. I commend your educational choice because it is a viable career path in and of itself—and because it provides the intellectual foundation of sustainable careers in other fields.
As I travel around the country, I hear over and over from business leaders that they want employees who have the capacity to think for themselves and the ability to express their thoughts clearly and concisely. They want team members with historical understanding, critical reasoning, ethical decision-making skills. In short, they want colleagues grounded in the humanities. They want you.
In an age where artificial intelligence and machine learning are disrupting entire industries, your ability to adapt to a changing economic model will be what guides you to a rewarding career.
I have had the pleasure of spending time with proud Fresno State alumni—such as Brian Turner, one of our nation’s finest poets and a great teacher.
Having come of age in this fertile valley, having studied in the very classrooms that you studied in, having deployed to Iraq as a U.S. Army infantryman, Brian Turner found his voice and his life purpose in the arts and humanities.
Like Turner, you cannot know what the world will hold for you; but you will be more fully prepared for it because of your liberal arts education at this institution—because of its commitment to you, and because of your own commitment to bring forth your best self.
I won’t deny that you’ll have setbacks and hard days and times of self-doubt. I have had such repeatedly during my own career. So please allow me to say from experience that the humanities can give you the strength and reservoir of knowledge necessary to push through until you come to the place where you always belonged.
Sometimes the most valuable statement is the most obvious and simplest one. So let me say:
I believe in you.
We believe in you.
Your loved ones believe in you.
Todos creemos en ti. We all believe in you.
We send you all good wishes for all the good things awaiting you in the fullness of time. You are worthy of them. You deserve them. You have earned them.
Thank you and congratulations.