restricted access Address by T. S. Eliot, ’06, to the Class of ’33, June 17, 1933
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[ 817 Address by T. S. Eliot, ’06, to the Class of  ’33, June 17, 19331 Milton Graduates Bulletin, 3 (9 Nov 1933) 5-9 Twenty-seven years ago I sat here with the graduating class − not in this hall, we did not seem to need so much room in those days − and somebody then got up on the platform and made the sort of speech that I am supposed to make.2 At least, I believe some one did. I really do not remember. I have not the slightest recollection who it was or a word that he said, and it never occurred to me even to regret that fact until today. Perhaps if I had attended to his words, I should know better how to behave now, but I do not believe that any other member of my class can remember that speech any better than I can. I do not believe any graduating class ever remembers what the speaker of the day says to it. The reason of this extraordinary and periodic lapse of memory must be that none of us ever listen. There are too many other things to think about at the moment, more pressing and more interesting. The immediate future, the next day, the summer, and the next year at college are all more interesting things to think about than what you hear from some old duffer who gets up on the platform when you are anxious to get away. That being so, the question is: Whom am I to talk to? The graduating class, if it is true to form, does not listen. Of course, I cannot condescend to anyone else. I can hear what I am saying myself, but you must remember that, differently from twenty-seven years ago, I am now on my best behavior and have to listen. Besides, three of my old masters are present,3 and you will find yourselves when you come back after a long time that two things strike you about your old masters: one is that they are very much younger than you thought they were, and the other is that they inspire you with very much more awe than they ever did when you were in school. However, it occurred to me that as I had to talk to somebody, I would take more or less a metaphorical figure and make him as real as I could − that is, it occurred to me to say a few words to the ghost of myself at the age of seventeen or thereabouts, whom we may suppose to be skulking somewhere about this hall. I have always wanted to say something to him and I have a number of grievances against that character. Lectures in America, 1932-33 818 ] I should like to face him and say: “Now look at me. See what a mess you have made of things. What have you got to say for yourself?” So I shall begin by saying to him: “Up to now you have contributed something to your own education, but for the most part you have been taught, and from now on you have got to contribute a good deal more to your own education and cooperate, because from now on you won’t learn anything unless to a large extent you are teaching yourself. You have got to find out for yourself what you want to do in the next few years. You must find out what you want to do and whether you are capable of doing it. The probability is assuming that you are neither a rotter nor an absolute weakling − that you belongtooneofthreegeneralclassesofindividuals.Thefirstalwaysseemed to me a rather fortunate class of people. They are those who from very early time seem to have developed a very clear bent in a certain direction and, having abilities in that way, it is quite clear what they want to do and what they ought to do for the rest of their lives. A great many of these people, I think, are very often scientifically inclined. They include the fellows who are always six experiments ahead of you in the laboratory − I was always three or four behind with those; I never used to get anything to explode. Their part is not necessarily easy, but it is very plainly marked. Then there is a large class of people who do not seem to have a particular bent for one thing rather than another, but who, with the aid of...


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