By Jonathan Balmer
Students, all of you have a voice, a voice squandered whenever you neglect to use it.
Allow me tell you two stories from my freshman year to demonstrate how fiercely I believe in the freedom to voice one’s opinion.
Avidly, I wrote for The Georgetonian from my early weeks on campus. I wrote about campus involvement, college traditions, alcohol policy, the relevancy of the Christian mission and direction for the College, and my own dreams and aspirations.
My opinion pieces would occasionally opine against Perry Dixon, then the editor and writer of wildly popular Back Page articles. It is a sign of a thriving campus when people not only listen to but respond to those with whom they disagree.
Do I agree with everything I wrote then? No! But neither do I regret my decision to write. It has led me not only to meeting wonderful people at The Georgetonian but helped lead me a few tiny steps further into becoming the only noteworthy thing this institution produces: a thinking person.
The second story involves my involvement in freshman seminar final presentation. Around 50-60 students were there for the final presentation. I was stressed, fearing I would fail Dr. Burch’s honors English class and lose my scholarships.
I did not want to attend the presentation and our assigned book, Po Bronson’s “What Should I Do With My Life?” is well-described as a mix of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” and “post-modern feel-good word salad” (Thankfully, it was replaced the next year). Also, I am sure, no one really read the book.
Naturally, I gave a 15-minute-long loud, impromptu presentation, with a choice few words of profanity thrown in, about what was helping me discern my vocation (“what gets me up in the morning”). I also included in my honest, but coarse, explanation of what I found wrong with the book. In honesty, my attempt to share an alternative to the book’s message shed much more heat than light.
This speech led to my freshman family group leaders sitting in a two-hour conference and being asked to watch me carefully. Even as a senior, my friends laugh and remind me of the story often. I have not been able to live it down since.
The entire communication department, according to a friend, still knows me only for that explosive presentation.
And yet, I do not regret my decision there as much as one might think. I learned from that experience. If you do not try, you do not learn.
Certainly, there are productive and unproductive ways to converse. I would encourage students to take the newspaper, not the “freaking out in class” route. Though far worse than both is a complete stagnancy, doing nothing at all.
I have a sweatshirt which explains what I mean. Recently, a friend told me he heard two freshman students walking behind me remarking on a hooded sweat shirt I was wearing. It was my favorite hoodie which has “Areopagitica” printed on the back.
“Why does his fraternity sweatshirt say Areopostale? And why is it spelled wrong?” My friend heard them say.
Well, whoever you were, let me educate you:
“Areopagitica” is a political work by John Milton. There’s an quotation from it on the side of the LRC. It was an early and influential argument for
freedom of the press. Miltonian ideas of speech have defined my college career and fueled my deepest convictions.
In “Areopagitica,” John Milton writes, “I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.” Nor can I praise a disengaged and self-sheltering student body.
If you are shy by nature, a first year student struggling in a new environment, or uncertain of your abilities, I understand your reluctance to involve yourself in campus discourse.
For 13 years, I struggled with my own voice, being unable to pronounce my “r”s correctly. With help from others, I overcame that
impediment and, most of all, gained self-confidence.
Perhaps some of you are on a similar path in other areas. And I hope you find support along the way.
But what I cannot understand, what I will never sympathize with, is something different. What vexes me is the repulsive current of cold apathy running through the veins of this once lively campus.
Some of you have opinions or at least complaints. You do not voice them. Or you refuse to seek the avenues available to you for dialogue: SGA general assembly, campus organizations, The Georgetonian Opinion Page.
Open yourself to the possibility of being publically wrong, and you have everything to gain.
I, and everyone else, will never care about how correct or persuasive your ideas, how noble your aims, how outstanding your goals are if they never cross my eyes or enter my ears.
Do you not feel affection, have passion, laugh? Do you not feel betrayal when wronged? Do you not bleed when you are cut? Are you not human?
If you are human, then argue, contribute, fight for whatever drives you as a human. Write—because it is one thing which separates us from the beasts of the field. Write because it matters. Write here.
Whether it is as inane as your right to party, or as noble as just treatment for the voiceless, do not allow your ability to speak and advocate expire because you were too much of a lazy carbon-copy of a man or woman to say something unpopular or to say anything at all.
There is a time for all things. It is approaching my time to stay quiet, at least for a while, and give space for others to speak— if anyone will.
So say something: I dare you.