Alpha Kappa Mu Honor Society

A message from our President.

Imagination and the Advancement of Culture

There is something that we as your teachers cannot teach you, and that is imagination. We can’t give you an imagination; we can inspire you to use this gift, because it is imagination that fuels information. I hope that you take good notes when you are in class, but I hope that you also ask yourself “what if” once in a while.

How often do you ask yourself “why not” when you are confronted with a problem that seems to have no solution? Why not? What if? I wonder? How often do these questions rise in your mind when you are studying or standing in line or paying your cell phone bill? You see, it isn’t always enough just to have the “correct” answer, if you don’t give it a closer look.

And you should wonder -- all the time. It is imagination that fuels our ability to solve problems – simple or complex. And it is imagination coupled with information and reason that advances our culture – that jumpstarts our technology that moves our science forward and even keeps us from suffocating under the weight of our own bureaucracy.

I encourage you to ask yourself “what if” as often as you can. For whatever your major, your chosen field, or the job you wind up taking until you get to your chosen field, you are the ones we will depend upon to advance our culture. Every generation has that contribution to make and that responsibility to uphold. You have only to take a glance at history to know this is true.

For example, the computer scientist Joseph Licklider wrote in 1960:

It seems reasonable to envision, for a time 10 or 15 years hence, a “thinking center” that will incorporate the functions of present-day libraries together with anticipated advances in information storage and retrieval.” (Man-Computer Symbiosis)

So nearly 50 years ago, Liklider was able to imagine what we now know as the Internet, and not only did he imagine it, his work with computers helped to make it a reality. What if?

And then there was Keith Glennan, the first NASA administrator, who began to imagine a program for a manned space flight to land on the moon, more than ten years before Neil Armstrong left his historic footprints there. When he began to imagine such an achievement, there was no rocket capable of making the trip, and no such thing as a Lunar Module. Why not?

And let me assure you that ideas that change the world are not always new technology. Sometimes it is the idea that despite our History, nations can live in peace; so what if we sign something called the Atlantic Charter in anticipation of the end of war? What if we can do more after the second war to end all wars and create something even more lasting, like the United Nations?

Or what if medical professionals from all over the world could get together and organize themselves in to an emergency action group, an international medical humanitarian organization that provides emergency assistance to those most in need, calling themselves Doctors Without Borders?

Or what if one day, one solitary relief worker named Dan West were to decide that it just wasn’t enough just to provide the hungry of the world with a meal, or with temporary supplies that would eventually run out? What if he said one day, “These children don’t need a cup, they need a cow,” and the organization he began grew into what we now call Heifer International, an organization attempting to end world poverty through gifts of livestock and training in sustainable farming?

You don’t have to look very far to find that someone’s imagination has touched your life. People with ideas changes lives. People with good ideas change the world. When you use the internet; when you see the work of NASA, or of the United Nations, or of Doctors Without Borders, or of Heifer International, you know that ideas change lives.

The late Senator Robert Kennedy is often quoted as having said:

“Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”

I’ll leave you with Robert Kennedy’s words and I hope that you will all commit to be a part of the change that will come into your lives. Why not?

Dr. Ann E. Harris
©2009

National President
Dean, College of Arts and Letters
Lincoln University
Jefferson City, MO

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