Agnes Callard will deliver a speech on the goals of education on September 22

One of the Assoc. Professor Agnes Callard’s earliest memories as a freshman at UChicago were attending the Purposes of Education Speech – in which a faculty member reflects on the purpose and definition of education with the College’s freshmen – and the lively discussions that followed in his residence hall.


So the famous philosophy scholar was “at the peak of excitement” when she was asked to deliver this year’s address, a revered tradition for College students since 1961.

“There’s something significant about this happening before your classes because it suggests your intellectual interests shouldn’t be limited to your classes,” said Callard, AB’97. “That’s pretty capital.”

This year’s talk, scheduled for September 22 at 6:30 p.m. in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, will be broadcast on Facebook Live and the UChicago News website.

Callard said she also looked forward to the post-Aims colloquium with students at her former residence, which she led on several occasions as a faculty member at UChicago.

“As excited as I am to give the address, the real action is up for discussion,” Callard said. “When you’re a freshman, you get to college, but you don’t really do anything intellectual the first week you’re there. So there’s this sort of pent-up energy of, ‘when is the learning going to start?’ And I have the impression that this discussion is the first moment of it.

Callard vividly recalled the “wonderful” discussion that followed Aims’ 1993 speech when she was a freshman at UChicago.

“It was in Dodd-Mead, in this very cozy and intimate room,” Callard said. “The atmosphere was very serious. I felt like we decided important issues just by talking about them.

In the edited Q&A below, Callard discussed her personal reverence for the Aims address, the purpose it serves to launch the incoming class’ college career at UChicago, and what she looks forward to. address this year’s incoming class.

For you, what is the significance of this tradition in the collegial experience?

I freaked out when Dean Boyer asked me for the address. Anyone who knows me knows that I have been waiting to give this talk for a long time. I am extremely excited to be able to introduce myself to the entire class of incoming freshmen.

For me personally, I like to think about things at the level of abstraction that addressing the goals of education requires you to adopt. Some people don’t like this precise level of abstraction, which is sort of decidedly intellectual, but it has to appeal to people where they are and it can’t presuppose much about their motivations. It is a unique opportunity.

How does it feel to know that your skill will be part of a rich tradition of educational goals?

I see the address much more in its immediate function of guiding a group of students than as a lasting document. I think that’s partly because a lot of the ideas in it are kind of just touched on or pointed at.

I’m very happy that it’s been kept online for a long time, which is like a lasting cultural function.

What do you want students to think about when they walk past your address?

I’m very curious to talk to a group of students and find out what they took away. There’s always this kind of paradox about ‘What do you want students to take away from your course?’ if you teach one. For me, I rather hope to be able to say: ‘They have something original to remember, which they can tell me later.’ And then when they do, I can respond with, “I can see how that’s what you got out of it.”

It’s not about planting a message in them, and I don’t think the speech gives me time to argue conclusively for any claim anyway. I’ve given them some reasons to think, and I hope they find them compelling. If it leads them to think, “How or why do I feel what I feel?” then I would be happy.

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