Asking Good Questions: Dean Blocker’s Commencement Address

At the School of Music’s 118th Commencement, held May 23, 2011, Dean Robert Blocker addressed the graduates. The text of his address, titled Asking Good Questions, is reprinted here.


Robert Blocker
The Henry and Lucy Moses Dean of Music

In the library of questions, there are many different types. Some are social, such as a greeting like “How are you?” Others are personal, sometimes gossipy and intrusive, like “Can you believe she moved in with him?” Some have short-term implications – “When do we get out of this rehearsal?”, while others have lasting meaning – “Will you marry me?” Some require one-word replies, and some cannot be answered. This morning, I want to focus on questions that pertain to you and your life as a person, an artist, an educated citizen, and a cultural leader.

Isidor Rabi, the Nobel Laureate in Physics who died earlier this year, was once asked why he became a scientist rather than a doctor, lawyer, or businessman like the other immigrant kids in his neighborhood. His answer was profound and an inspiration to all educators: “My mother,” he said, “made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘Did you ask a good question today?’ That difference – asking good questions – made me become a good scientist!”

Educated people – scientists, artists, physicians, teachers, lawyers, ministers, business owners, to name a few – are intellectually curious. If you wish to achieve your personal goals, to develop your talent, and to live a rich, satisfying life, asking good questions is, I believe, the best possible outcome of your educational experience.

Much has been said and written about the Information Age and its digital implications, but we have no singular claim on this term. What of the people who first encountered the alphabet, or those who lived when Gutenberg invented movable print, or more recently our grandparents and great-grandparents who witnessed the advent of radio and television?

Some say the book is dead. Hardly! In 2011 over one million new titles were published. Some say anything and everything is available on-line. Not so! The average life span of a URL is 44 days. MORE

Published June 9, 2011
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