From the Bridge: Far Beyond the Stars: From Season 8 to Infinity
Soooo…as I write somewhat surprised to be starting my 8th year with all of you here in PWR, the first thought on my mind is that I’m going to have to put all of my Star Trek: Deep Space Nine references and metaphors away, since we had seven seasons of the iconic series. Of course we’ll always have Star Trek in one way or another given the affection Marvin and I (and many of you) both have for its various series and for the vision that gives coherence to the franchise. The idea that humans—that humanity--can evolve, that we can coexist across our many differences, that we can solve the major sources of conflict between us, and achieve things barely imaginable in our current moment remains compelling for all kinds of reasons.
One of those reasons takes me to one of the gems my teacher, mentor, and friend of 20-plus years Keith Gilyard shared with me years ago: that to study rhetoric demands a kind of core optimism, because to believe in the power of persuasion--or that persuasion is even possible in the madness of the world we live in--is to have a fundamental belief in humanity, and a commitment to it. To believe that rhetoric is worth studying is to believe deeply in "the people," to believe deeply in the possibility that we can get this thing right. That core optimism in our collective humanity, even in a dark time such as this, sustains me generally, and has sustained me across these seven years with you. It keeps me believing in writing and speaking as core to research and inquiry, and core to a higher education and it keeps me believing in PWR’s mission and the possibility in what we can do for the young people we teach and mentor, even in moments when I’ve had my own individual doubts about what I’m doing or what I have to offer. And I must say the major factor in replenishing my faith in this work has been the beauty and brilliance of what you do in the classroom, in conferences, in the Hume Center, in all of our constituent programs like the Oral Communication Program, Stanford Storytelling Project, Bing Honors College and our Notations in Science Communication and Cultural Rhetorics. Even more than what happens in those spaces, I’m sustained by what you have created for and with each other in community. I’m so deeply grateful for how you support each other, share resources, lift each other up in difficult moments, and show so much generosity and grace in and beyond our pocket of community.
And because of who you are to each other, and what you’ve created for Stanford and our students I can make one more DS9 reference before I retire the metaphor for a while: I’m glad that this isn’t the end of our series and an accounting of “what we left behind,” but one of continued new beginnings. One layer of the series that I’ve always loved (beyond how the bridge crew worked together, beyond the tenderness of Sisko’s love for both Jake and Captain Yates, beyond the richness of the storytelling and the depth of the various arcs of that storytelling, beyond its incisive commentary on contemporary issues) was Ben Sisko’s deep commitment to the search. He had to search deep for his own personal sense of purpose, had to search for his own story, for the stories he had to tell, for his connection to something beyond the human realm. He had to search deep for ways to resolve conflict and help members of the Federation be productive across long standing distrust emerging from those conflicts and he searched deep for solutions in advancing the station’s needs and the Federation’s mission even when he had significant reservations at times about each.
That commitment to the search, to inquiry is what connects this character and my favorite Trek captain to our mission in PWR, to the university’s mission and to our students. And I’d even say that the series’s (and the many iterations of Trek across eras and media) commitment to figuring it out over fighting it out is what connects us to rhetoric as our core way into inquiry and into writing and speaking instruction. As we go boldly—or tentatively, or questioningly—into some new series and some new metaphors, I’ll keep the power and possibility of PWR’s mission and vision in front of us, keep focusing on that core optimism that what we do can inspire in our students, and keep celebrating the gifts you bring to this work and what you do means for Stanford. This will still be the bridge, but maybe I’ll be able to tap in to more of a spirit of play (some of you know one of my favorite lines to reference is from Bootsy Collins: “ain’t nothing good unless you play with it"), some Langston Hughes and maybe, just maybe a little more of the music and specifically the Funk that I came here with those seven years ago.
Keep shining your light so we can see, PWR.