Chadron State College
Chadron State College

Knight encourages master's graduates to become civic engagement spark plugs

May 7, 2019

Robert Knight
Robert Knight

CHADRON – Eighty candidates for master’s degrees were honored during Chadron State College’s Graduate Commencement Saturday in Memorial Hall.

Amee Diers of Hay Springs, Nebraska, offered the opening moment of reflection, and Kattie Ranta of Rapid City, South Dakota, gave the closing moment of reflection.

Dr. Robert Knight, a professor retiring from the Justice Studies, Social Sciences and English Department, emphasized the importance of civic engagement in his speech.

“We achieve fulfillment by helping others. We avoid anomie by forming our identity and values in the context of mutual responsibilities and the joys of fellowship. We gain self-esteem when we contribute to our communities. Success is an empty goal untethered from other values. It will not satisfy our deepest needs of love and companionship,” Knight said.

He explained civic engagement is in one’s self-interest, even though it may be counter intuitive.

“De Tocqueville called this ‘self-interest well understood.’ Civic participation is essential to a healthy democracy. We underappreciate how much our own welfare depends on a healthy society and good governance,” Knight said. “It is individually rational for you not to be civically engaged. It costs you time and money. But if we all made such an individually rational choice, clearly our democracy would perish.” 

Knight encouraged the graduates to become community leaders or spark plugs, a term coined by Michael Schudson, and ignite the flame of civic participation.

“Seek to achieve empathetic understanding of those with whom you disagree. Be well informed. Consider arguments from all sides. Be skeptical and trusting at the same time. Support limits on power, even when those you support are in power,” Knight said.

He said expectations for democracy to be orderly and efficient are misguided.

"To quote Winston Churchill: 'democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time’,” Knight said. “As civic leaders, it is important for the health of our democracy that you are engaged. We must seek common ground and compromise, and we must be satisfied with incremental improvements.”

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