(Posted May 11, 2004)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- John Churchill, chief executive officer of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society (and a professor of philosophy), illustrated for Juniata students, by tracing the horrifying career of one of history's most famous recipients of a liberal arts education -- Alexander the Great -- that a liberal arts education has taught them not to follow in Alexander's footsteps, but to weigh their learning, deliberate upon their knowledge when faced with a decision, and make the right choice, as he delivered the commencement address at Juniata College's 126th commencement ceremony held Sunday, May 9.

The graduating class of 328 students was awarded bachelor of arts (110) or bachelor of science degrees (218) at the ceremony presided over by Juniata College President Thomas R. Kepple Jr.

"Alexander the Great was tutored for three years by Aristotle," Churchill said. "The conqueror-to-be received instruction in writing, Greek, Hebrew, Babylonian and Latin, as well as lore about the sea, the winds and the stars.

"After exposure to this teaching, Alexander undertook to conquer the world," Churchill said. "Alexander was dead before his 33rd birthday and his empire disintegrated. ...It was not the legacy of one who had followed the moderate life (lessons taught by Aristotle)."
Churchill told his audience that there are two systems of ethics: heroic and civil. The heroic ethic is personified in Alexander the Great: "The Central theme is the self-expression of one's own excellence. The aim is to live hard and die famous," he explained. The civil ethic is exemplified by restraint, self-control, moderation, respect and conflict resolution. "Last year we asked hundreds of of Phi Beta Kappa members to discuss the social value of the liberal arts and sciences. The beneficiaries of a liberal arts and sciences education report that the skills of deliberation are the most important results of their education. Does it make them better versions of themselves? Not necessarily. Is it the best way we know to maximize that possibility? Apparently it is.

"Some, perhaps a few, like Alexander, will not 'get it,'" Churchill added. "But because of their upbringing and training, because of their education, because of innate human responses to things, or because of the sheer decision to do this rather than that, people finally, for the most part, 'get it.'"

The 2003 Senior Class Gift is a contribution for the construction of a brick walkway from the soon-to-be-constructed Marlene and Barry Halbritter Center for the Performing Arts to Founders Hall. About 70 percent of the class contributed to the gift.

As chief executive officer of Phi Beta Kappa, Churchill is responsible for the programs and activities of the society. The society has 262 chapters on college and university campuses and 70 associations throughout the United States.
Churchill became secretary at the society in 2001 after a long and distinguished academic career at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark.

From 1984 to 2001, he served as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college at Hendrix. During his tenure, he was responsible for administering the construction of a new library, a new science facility, a new studio art complex and sports facilities for baseball, softball and soccer.

He also oversaw such projects as the college's entry into the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference and the Associated Colleges of the South.

He joined the Hendrix College faculty in 1977 as an assistant professor of philosophy. He was promoted to associate professor in 1982 and was promoted to full professor in 1992. He also served as dean of student affairs from 1983 to 1994, and as chair of the Department of Philosophy from 1980 to 1983. Twice, in 1992 and 2001, Churchill served as interim president of the college.

An honored scholar of the writings of the philosophers Wiggenstein and Hume, Churchill also specializes in the history of philosophy, the philosophy of religion, and the history of Christianity. He has written more than 100 scholarly articles.

He earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., in 1971, where he played varsity football and competed on the track team. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1973 and master's degree in 1980 from Oxford University in Oxford, England, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He went on to earn a doctorate in philosophy from Yale University in 1978.

In conclusion, Churchill told the graduating seniors "If I offer you graduates the exhortation to go out and conquer the world, please understand that I am not recommending that you do what Alexander the Great did. I am confident you will not, because I believe that here at Juniata you did indeed 'get it.' You 'got' what liberal education offers. Instead of behaving like Alexander, I know you will practice the virtues of the civil ethic. Deliberate. Act well. Live happily."

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.