Theodor Seuss Giesel was born 112 years ago today, and in honor of his birthday, I thought I would share my all-time favorite “Dr. Seuss” quote. It’s not from one of his best known works, like The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham or Horton Hears a Who. Actually, it comes from the only college commencement address that Giesel ever delivered.
In 1977, at age 73, Giesel was invited to address the graduates of Lake Forest College, in Lake Forest, Illinois. After being introduced to the assembled throng on this august occasion, Giesel rose and delivered a poem he had composed specially for the event. He made no other remarks, but simply returned to his seat–roughly thirty seconds after coming to the podium.
Here, then, is Dr. Seuss’s “commencement address”:
MY UNCLE TERWILLIGER ON THE ART OF EATING POPOVERS
My uncle ordered popovers
from the restaurant’s bill of fare.
And, when they were served,
he regarded them with
a penetrating stare…
Then he spoke great Words of Wisdom
as he sat there on that chair:
“To eat these things,”
said my uncle,
“you must exercise great care.
You may swallow down what’s solid…
you must spit out the air!”
as you partake of the world’s bill of fare,
that’s darned good advice to follow.
Do a lot of spitting out the hot air.
And be careful what you swallow.
“We need intimate knowledge of the past,” C. S. Lewis wrote in his classic essay “Learning in Wartime.” This was not because “the past has any magic about it,” Lewis explained, “but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion.” As Lewis concluded,
A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: the [historian] has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.”
I think Uncle Terwilliger would have understood. One of the best reasons to study history is to equip ourselves to think with greater discernment about our own day and time. At its best, it helps us in being careful what we swallow.
That’s not a bad thing during an election year.