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A call to cultivate civility and other virtues

Daniel Callahan, a bioethics expert at Yale University and Harvard Medical School, delivers the baccalaureate address at Lehigh.

In his baccalaureate address to the Class of 2010, Daniel Callahan, a leading expert on health care and bioethics, issued a call for civility in our public discourse.

“That’s what we particularly lacked in the health care debate, among many other debates,” Callahan told a packed house of students and parents in Packer Memorial Church Sunday afternoon. “We ought not to yell and shout at each other.”

Callahan said the debate over health care reform was “nasty, unpleasant, difficult and complicated,” and was likely to continue for years to come.

“We have a tough time getting along,” Callahan said. “We have a tough time achieving bipartisan consensus on the issues.”

A senior research scholar at Yale University, a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School and president emeritus and cofounder of the Hastings Center, an internationally acclaimed, nonpartisan research institution dedicated to bioethics and the public interest, Callahan was hailed as “a pioneering expert in health care policy and ethics” in his introduction by Lloyd Steffen, professor of religion studies and university chaplain.

A list of virtues and values to live by

Instead of discussing health care directly, Callahan shared with the members of the Class of 2010 virtues and values that he believes will serve them well in their personal and professional lives.

Among the virtues he advocated were:

• Prudence. “A prudent person is someone who takes himself and his life seriously,” he said.

• Fortitude or courage. “We have to be tough in the face of adversity, we have to accept it and live with it, fall down and pick ourselves up.”

• Charity. “To love our neighbors is a tough command, because our neighbors are not necessarily loveable, but we must nonetheless try. Charity is fundamentally important.”

• Temperance. Paraphrasing one of Benjamin Franklin’s sayings, Callahan said: “In short, don’t eat too much and don’t drink a lot.”

• Humility. This virtue, Callahan said, “is absolutely necessary to keep us in place in our own mind.”

• Tranquility. Learning how to remain calm in times of trouble is very important, he said. “I personally tend to get irritated by small things much more than large things.”

• Generosity. Be generous with your time and money, Callahan advised, and strive to be a good friend and companion.

• Industry and leisure. “We work more hours than any country in the Western world,” Callahan said. “We are very industrious. If anything, we’re over-industrious.” So while applying yourself to your work is good, “keeping alive a circle of your family and a circle of friends” is also important.

Summing up, Callahan urged the graduating seniors to “be prepared to change.” He noted that he was 40 years old when he discovered that health care and ethics would be his field, and encouraged the students to be “open to new possibilities” as they go through life.

Baccalaureate Notes: As part of the baccalaureate service, four graduating seniors read selections from different faith traditions. Representing Christianity was Mimi Denning, a pharmaceutical chemistry and religion studies major who plans to attend medical school in the fall; representing Islam was Mir-Muhammud Razavi, a biological sciences and religion studies major who will enter the Master of Theological Studies program at Harvard Divinity School in the fall; representing Judaism was Emily Becker, a design arts major with a concentration in graphic design and a minor in biology, who will come back to Lehigh as a Presidential Scholar, pursuing a master’s degree in sociology; and representing Hinduism was Sara Shah, a pre-dental services major with a minor in religion studies, who has completed her first year in Lehigh’s accelerated seven-year program with the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine and will be a 2013 doctoral candidate.

Steffen offered the opening greeting, while Rabbi Seth Goren, associate university chaplain and director of Jewish student life, provided the opening teaching. The invocation was given by the Rev. Wayne E. Killian, director of Catholic Campus Ministry for the Diocese of Allentown, Catholic Chaplain at Lehigh, director of the Newman Center, and pastor of the University Parish of Holy Ghost, which is the present home of The Catholic Center at Lehigh.

The Concord Chamber Singers performed during the service, and the South Side Brass played the prelude and postlude.

Photos by Theo Anderson

Story by Jack Croft

Posted on Monday, May 24, 2010

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