Author Monica Guzman ’05 Urges Graduating Students to “Stay Sharp”

By Tom Porter
Having “curious conversations” with people you strongly disagree with “isn't just the only way to see those other people clearly, it's also the only real way to see ourselves clearly too,” said Monica Guzman ’05.
guzman screenshot from wheaton commencement address
Image: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IndXWaf1sB4

The author and journalist was addressing the graduating class at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, which also bestowed an honorary degree upon her at its recent .

“It is so easy when things feel so scary to stay put, to stay braced, to not question anything, least of all yourself. But,” added Guzman, “like-minded conversation where there's little to no contrast to reveal anything dulls us overtime.” She compared the human mind to a pencil: “Think of a pencil used again and again, to write, to speak, to express. No matter how carefully you lean the tip one way against the paper this time and then the other way against the paper that time, it will lose its point, its crisp knowable readable edge, unless you give it one thing—friction. With friction, a pencil remembers what it's made of,” said Guzman, inviting the listeners to “welcome friction” their lives.

“You've seen the shows and showdowns we stage when we project into our disagreements, when we misperceive what they're really about,” she continued. “You've seen us be too afraid of someone different to get close to them and also too afraid of what they'll reveal if they get close to us.”

Guzman warned against the tendency to disengage with “the other side” in the belief it will provide strength and protection. “I think you know better,” she told the assembled graduates. “The world you're about to change does not need more smashers, shamers, snappers, or haters, but sure could use some sharpeners and whole new crowds of people who are brave enough to be confronted with their own opinions and find out over and over again who they really are. Stay curious, stay sharp.”

Guzman is the author of , which tackles the subject of how to engage with people whose worldview is radically different from your own.