It's the highlight of my year: a visit to Governor's School at Hendrix College in Conway, which brings together promising young people from every corner of the state during the summer between their junior and senior years in high school. It's something for an old man to anticipate, then enjoy, and most important of all, learn from. I always leave refreshed, cheered, buoyed. There's hope after all.
It is the great indulgence of the old to lecture the young, and it is the great kindness of the young to pretend to listen. It is a curious experience to be a guest speaker anywhere, but especially here at this annual school, camp session and general kumzitz for Arkansas' best and brightest young people--or most interesting, anyway. They're all here not because their grades are necessarily the best, but because they seem to be the most interested in things intellectual, artistic, scientific or all of the above, which is what makes them interesting.
So here's how being a guest speaker works: You listen to the glowing introduction, then settle back to hear what so august a personage has to say, and then it hits you -- You're on!
Surprise: That's you who was being introduced.
There's nothing to inspire a little humility -- even in a full-time opinionator and therefore egoist -- like looking out at an auditorium of several hundred bright young people. Which means they're bound to be judgmental young people. They can't help it, being both intelligent and probing. Though they're much too polite to show it.
That's something else I've noticed about the kids at Governor's School over the years. They're invariably well mannered. Maybe it's just because they're Southern, or maybe, I'd like to think, it's because they're already discovered that manners are the best lubricant when it comes to intellectual intercourse. Powerful thing, good manners. They may even induce a minimal humility in us know-it-all types.
This year I had a hopeful theme to elaborate on. Because this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, perhaps the most influential Civil Rights Acts in the long succession of them that marked this country's slow ascent out of a history of first slavery and then racial segregation. It's an anniversary worth noting. It deserves more than noting; it's worth celebrating. More to the point, its passage half a century ago sets an example worth following.