Publications and Speeches
|Ithaca: The Journey|
|August 29, 2011|
As you have surely noticed, Constantine Cavafy’s poem Ithaca is not about Ithaca College, or the town and city of Ithaca, or the Ithaca Bakery, or any of the other Ithaca-named places and things you will encounter in the coming years. Cavafy is referring to the Greek island Ithaca, home to Odysseus, from which our town and our college took their name. Odysseus’s voyage home after the end of the Trojan War was – literally -- epic. He and his crew were held in captivity by Calypso, trapped by the Cyclops, doomed by Poseidon to wander lost on the seas, enchanted by Circe, bewitched by the Sirens and threatened by Scylla and Charybdis. Finally, after ten years, Odysseus made his way home to his wife Penelope and their son Telemachus.
Some of you surely had adventures finding your way to the Ithaca College campus this past week. If you found that Hurricane Irene derailed your plans in any way, then you were having an Odyssean moment. Even so, I can say with confidence that Odysseus had a much harder time getting to Ithaca than did any of you.
Cavafy’s poem uses the Odyssey to write about the journey of life, and about the role of education in it. It is a commonplace to think of education as a journey to an exotic land, an experience of new sights, sounds and smells that leave you with fresh wisdom. The poem Ithaca adopts this metaphor. Cavafy writes: “With what pleasure, with what joy, will you come into harbors seen for the first time.” He describes the exotic objects you may behold – mother of pearl, amber and ebony. Since Egypt was the globally preeminent seat of learning in the 12th century BC, Cavafy extols the Egyptian cities you may visit in order “to learn and learn again from those who know.”
By linking learning with difficult journeys, Cavafy is also taking us to a different and more provocative place. “As you set out for Ithaca,” he writes, “I hope that your journey is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery. “ By the time you complete your journey of learning, Cavafy adds, “You should be old, wealthy with experience and insight.”
Let me say for the record that I hope you graduate from Ithaca College before you are old. Your time here at IC is only a part of your journey, a journey that began well before you arrived on our campus and one that will continue long after we proudly call you alumni. The journey is continuous, and your time at IC will merely be one particularly rich and diverse portion of the larger journey you are making.
We, the faculty and staff of Ithaca College, do have a specific objective in mind that we hope you will reach during the portion of your journey that you spend with us. I am going to name that objective now because I hope you will adopt it as your own and that you will use your entire experience at IC to reach it.
We do not hope or expect that you will become wealthy with experience by the time you graduate – there is not enough time for that. You will not become learned. You can, however, become learners. And that is our goal for you – that by the time you graduate from IC you will have become adept at all the skills required to turn experience into wisdom and insight. If you are able to do that, then you will be a modern-day Odysseus. Like his journey, yours will be long but it will be epic. Its greatness will lie in the journey itself more than in the destination. You will set out from Ithaca College as a learner and when you arrive at that other Ithaca, the mythical Ithaca, you will be wealthy in experience and insight.
Each of you is today at a different point in your journey. Some of you have transferred to Ithaca from other colleges and universities. Some of you are graduate students who have completed one arduous phase of your journey and are beginning another. But the single largest group among you are first year undergraduates. For you, today is day 1 of a journey that will last just 1,357 days – at which time, on a sunny day in May 2015, I will greet you again to congratulate you on the journey you have completed and the next one you will undertake.
1,357 days is not a long time, and I hope you will make every one of those days count in taking advantage of all that Ithaca College offers. 1,357 days from now you will have completed the curriculum leading to your degrees. You will have gained experience in classrooms and laboratories and studios and clinics, as well as on stages and in trading rooms. You will have had the opportunity to study abroad and to take part in community service projects in the Ithaca region as well as elsewhere in the country and around the world. You will have been involved in clubs and teams and other organizations that give you leadership experience. You will have challenged yourself physically and mentally, and you will have extended your spiritual horizons. You will have had at least one late night conversation in your residence hall that shapes your perspective on some issue or subject dear to your heart. You will have completed tasks that you didn’t think you would be able to complete. You will have accomplishments that give you enduring pride. You will make friends that last you a lifetime. There will be small moments during those 1,357 days that touch you so deeply you will never forget them.
All that, and more, will be part of your Ithaca College journey. 1,357 days from now, I will stand before you wearing this robe. You will also be wearing academic gowns and caps. You will think back to this day, to this very moment. I will read to you the following line from Cavafy’s poem:
“Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey. Without her, you would not have set out.”
“Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you will have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.”