Dr. Branscomb urges graduates to solve our planet's problems
Posted May 25, 2012
Fifty-six seniors received the traditional Bible and diploma at The Webb School on May 25 in the outdoor ceremony that began with baccalaureate. Commencement included an induction of select graduates into the Cum Laude Society, a presentation of academic book prizes and special awards.
Ray Broadhead, head of school, congratulated the graduates and said, “Your doors at Webb are about to close on this phase of your life and you, as a class, will scatter to open many different doors next year as you commence the next phase of your life.” He added, “You are well-prepared for that journey. You know what it means to be a tireless worker, to work effectively, and to be an accurate scholar. You know what it means to live with honor and character as the core of your existence. The faculty and I ask you to go forth into this world and ‘pedigree your ancestors.’”
Dr. Lewis Branscomb, commencement speaker, also congratulated the graduates and added, “Your generation can help solve the problems we face and once again put our planet on the course to peace, prosperity and sustainability.”
It was the second time that Branscomb ’43, has delivered the commencement address. He first spoke in 1980, the year he became a member of The Webb School Board of Trustees. He was inducted into the Webb Distinguished Alumni Society in 1991.
Branscomb, who received a degree in physics from Duke, Summa Cum Laude, and earned his master's degree and doctorate from Harvard University, spent a little time depicting the Webb of his day during World War II. He noted what he called a “very interesting set of rules,” but added that infractions still sent students to the honor council, much like the system in place today. He also related that founder Sawney Webb had an idea about holidays – that they should be surprises - not specific days. Students could tell when they were going to get the day off when they arrived in morning chapel and the hymn for the day was “Revive Us Again.”
Several other stories followed, before Branscomb reminded the graduates about what they gained at Webb. “As you leave Webb, you take with you a strong education in science, mathematics, the arts and social sciences. You have also been grounded in the attributes of character needed to face the extraordinary challenges of this century.” He added that self-discipline and the willingness to admit shortcomings are also valued lessons they learned.
“I am sure you are aware that our nation is a very important part of the global community,” he said and cited some of the problems everyone on the planet faces.
- The economies of all nations are more and more interdependent. When Greece is threatened with financial collapse, the US stock market falls and our employment rates suffer.
- Our country consumes a quarter of the world’s energy, but we produce only 5.4 percent of the world’s crude oil. We find ourselves dependent on other nations, especially in the Middle East, whose governments may or may not be our friends.
- Our dependence on fossil fuel imports is already changing world climates, disrupting agriculture, increasing the severity of storms, turning the oceans more acidic and raising sea levels that will threaten the existence of low lying cities. Some oceanic island nations will find themselves entirely under water before most of you are 60.
- The growth of world populations brings with it the threat of new infectious diseases that spread around the world, together with the destruction of animal, fish and plant species on which both nature and humans depend.
- All of these global changes can induce conflicts. But the new wars they engender are now fought by informal armies that do not wear uniforms and attack innocent civilian populations, including our own.
“My generation is leaving this dreary picture for you and your generation to cope with. But the future does not have to be this dark,” Branscomb said.
“We live in an information-rich society. Information is an assembly of ideas and observations, some true, some false. Knowledge is information evaluated and structured to be useful in any context. Wisdom is knowledge tested in prior experience, and appropriate for guiding decisions about the future. It is wisdom that we aspire to gain.”
The speaker said that science has given humans the tools to create technologies that could, if wisely applied internationally, solve the environmental problems, cure the infectious diseases, reduce poverty and create new sources of renewable energy. “Science gives us choices; wisdom tells us how to choose.”
Branscomb closed his remarks saying, “For many decades our country set an example other nations sought to emulate. Your generation can restore our leadership role and help others to follow us,” he said. “We are counting on you to do better than we have done. I am very optimistic that with your skills and values the world’s future is indeed bright. Now it is your turn to go forward and help make this a better world.”
As part of the ceremony, Cameron Togrye, of Murfreesboro, received the highest academic honor in the class, The Anna Landis Hightower Award, which honors the student with the highest grade-point average for four years at Webb, and the John Hardin Highest Scholastic Award for achieving the highest scholastic average in his senior year.
Will Huddleston, of Murfreesboro, received the John Lewis Morgan Award, which is presented annually to the student who has maintained high standard of excellence in his or her academic work and who has demonstrated the highest qualities of good citizenship in the service of the school.