William Chester Jordan ’69 extols virtues of education as a Commencement speaker

William Chester Jordan ’69, Dayton-Stockton Professor of Medieval History at Princeton University, was the Commencement speaker May 15 at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

The event was held with social distancing practices at FedExField in Landover, Maryland.

Jordan spoke of higher education as a “precious commodity” and shared the story of Robert of Sorbon, who was born to a peasant family in northern France in 1201. As a young man, Robert was extraordinarily brilliant, earning himself a scholarship position at the College of Rethel in Paris. After achieving great success as a student, he went on to study at the University of Paris and was appointed to the faculty, earning the renown and confidence of King Louis IX.

Never forgetting his own peasant background, Robert spent his life working to improve access to education for other students who had not been born to wealthy families. First he established an affordable boarding house for students who could not otherwise afford housing in the expensive Paris area. Later, he established a college as part of the University of Paris that would cater to the needs of poor folks from his region and others with few opportunities.

“The students there would appreciate opportunities offered to them that they had never before thought might be in their grasp,” Jordan said. “Amid these hopes and circumstances in the 1250s was born the greatest and most enduring of the Parisian colleges, the Sorbonne, named after Sorbon, the village where Robert was born.”

Jordan shared this story, he said, because it evokes memories from his own life, including parents who worked hard and sacrificed to send him to college and then, the value of higher education itself, which exposed him to new ideas and a deeper understanding of the human condition.

“As college was liberating for those students in 13th-century Paris I have spoken to you about, it was profoundly liberating for me. It made me, I believe or at least I hope, a more humane individual,” Jordan said. “You students, who are graduating in this exercise today, now have the benefits of so much learning ahead of you. Never ever forget how you acquired it, and I urge you to always strive, to the extent you can, to preach the beatitude of education to those young people whom you encounter throughout your lives.”


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