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Reception for Gregory Maguire, Keystone College Commencement Speaker

In 1952, children of the world and their parents were introduced by E.B. White (d. 1985) to a talking runt-of-a-piglet named Wilbur and a little girl named Fern. Together with the help of a rat named Templeton and their spider friend, Charlotte, they saved Wilbur’s life by weaving a web of words: “SOME PIG, TERRIFIC, RADIANT, HUMBLE.”

At one point in the book, the dialogue reads:

“Why did you do all this for me?” Wilbur asked. “I’ve never done anything for you.” Charlotte replied, “You have been my friend; That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
(E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web)

Friendship. Who among us was treated (or perhaps tortured!!) in high school to translating the Latin of Marcus Tullius Cicero (d. 43 BCE), in the De Amicitia (44 BCE) as he schooled us on the rarity of true friendship. He said that a real friend is someone who shares “complete sympathy in all matters of importance, plus goodwill and affection.” And we were instructed that “without virtue, friendship cannot exist, and no life is worth living without the mutual love of friends.”

About 2000 years later (1960)—kindly pardon the temporal whiplash—the British novelist, poet, theologian, and lecturer at Oxford and Cambridge, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), who is known for his books, the Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, the Problem of Pain and my favorite, his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, assembled a book based on a set of radio talks he gave in 1958. In these talks and book he proposes a summary of four kinds of human love: affection, friendship, erotic love, and the love of God (agape). In his classic provocative style he writes:

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gives value to survival (Chapter 4).

The etymological roots of the word, “friend,” seem to be a Middle English conflation of the Old German, freund (to love), with the Old French freo (to fly, free). The root meanings are clear: our friends are those we love freely and friends teach us to fly with our hearts and minds.

Astonishingly, about a dozen years ago, Charlotte’s Web was banned in Kansas because talking animals were deemed to be blasphemous and unnatural, and the passages about Charlotte dying were criticized as being “inappropriate subject matter for a children’s book.” Wow—I guess they never read the Bible, and I’m sure happy we’re not in Kansas right now!

Gregory, like Wilbur’s friend, Charlotte; and Cicero; and CS Lewis; your words and life remind us that friendship gives us honor and meaning. You have encouraged us in the conviction that “everyone deserves a chance to fly. . . although we can’t all come and go by bubble!” The web of relationships and friendships at Keystone College has drawn us together in this place to help others soar, especially our students.

And so, “there’s no place like home,” especially when shared with a friend like you, Gregory. Thank you for weaving worlds of wonder and love with your words, and for sharing your life with us and our students tomorrow. You are: TERRIFIC, RADIANT, HUMBLE, SOME FRIEND.

–  President David L. Coppola, Ph.D.

Read about Gregory Maguire, 2018 Commencement Speaker