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Keystone College Spring Undergraduate Research and Creativity Celebration 2017

Thirty years ago, I read a book called Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card (Tor Books, 1987), which is the first in a series of stories about a young boy named Alvin Miller (later known as Alvin Maker), and the trials that he faced growing up with his family in Colonial America as they migrated west. The book is different from typical history because most of the people have extraordinary abilities called “knacks” that empower them to be problem-solvers and fix things and create useful tools to help others in need.

Alvin is a seventh son and as such, great things are expected of him since the number seven is presumed to be a mystical number of completion [cp. Genesis’ seven days of creation, seven virtues and vices, the seven stars or seven sisters in the constellation of Taurus, the seven hills of Rome, and the seven lucky gods of Japanese mythology, to name a few]. Seventh sons have very strong knacks, and the seventh son of a seventh son is, as one would imagine, extraordinarily rare. In fact, Alvin appears to be the only one in the world. Unfortunately, Alvin’s nearly-magical abilities also attract the envious attention of “the Unmaker,” who is akin to entropy in a destructive entity. In times of trouble or distress, Alvin doodles or weaves pieces of grass together to make things in order to push the Unmaker’s negative influence away. He creates and invites others to do the same. As he and others share their “knacks,” they become interdependent and stronger together.

Students, you are here today because you each have a “knack” for making, doodling, and weaving your creativity, time, persistence, and thoughtfulness into a tapestry of talent. You each possess extraordinary abilities that are almost second nature to you because you have persevered and worked at your craft and talents. Creativity, innovation, virtue, research, wisdom, goodness, and beauty are only 50% inspiration; the rest is perspiration. We are here to celebrate what you have made of yourselves through your hard work and commitment, and who you will continue to become in the years and decades ahead. You have made Keystone College a better place.

Regrettably, the Unmaker is no stranger to the college experience.

Stress is a well-known creativity-killer and causes people to hide in their rooms or dark depressing spaces. Time constrictions, fittingly called “deadlines,” are also creativity-killers that make small tasks seem insurmountable. And lack of sleep is a sure way to become unfocused, irritable, and irrational. As you know, college life has the potential for all of these realities to affect you in large measure—and simultaneously. Yet, you have confronted these obstacles and have woven critical, creative, innovative ideas and ethical problem-solving strategies that assure your success in overcoming future adversarial and challenging encounters.

We call the curiosity and desire for research and life-long learning, habits of the mind and heart. They are akin to knacks, and in classical philosophy called virtues. The more often you engage your curiosity and creativity in making something positive, the more you develop a knack for virtuous living and the happier and more fulfilled you become. That is why a Keystone College education seeks to empower you by opening doors to broad, perennial questions, as well as deep explorations of contemporary information that gradually form into clusters of knowledge, that throughout your life will weave into wisdom and ethical living in service to others. Questions such as: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to live a life of meaning and purpose? What does it mean to understand and appreciate the natural world? What does it mean to cultivate a more just global society for the common good? How do we respond to the opportunities and challenges of developing technologies and innovations? These questions are at the core of those who are committed to making our community healthier, stronger, and more virtuous.

So thank you for sharing your talents, effort, and knacks so generously, and as you continue on your journey here and throughout life. I suggest that a) in times of stress, seek out your friends and create things together—especially if you are creating some harmless fun; b) doodle whenever possible weaving your ideas together with others; c) pace yourself and enjoy the journey of learning and creating; and d) sleep on difficult decisions to allow thoughtfulness and creative options to emerge.

Most of all, know that we believe in you, you will always belong here, and we are counting on you to help us become the best school, community, country, and world that we can become together.

David L. Coppola, Ph.D., President