Hearts Eye Commencement Speech

28 Jan

Probably the prologue of the Heart’s Eye story/trilogy – but I had it in mind for a while. Does it make sense?

Hearts Eye Commencement Speech

Background: The following is a transcript of a speech given by Lady Emily, Founder of Heart’s Eye University, when the university accepted its first influx of students.  It was warmly received by the newcomers, then transcribed and distributed shortly afterwards by the Heart’s Eye Press.  Copies of the speech were, naturally, banned in many kingdoms.  This did not, of course, stop bootleg copies being found everywhere.


They came to me and said I had to give a commencement speech.

I wasn’t so sure.  I’ve had to sit through a lot of speeches and most of them were nothing more than hot air, given by people who were in love with the sound of their own voice.  There was little to be gained by listening to them and forcing people to listen only ensured they paid as little attention as possible.  But they insisted.  It is my duty, they said, to outline the point of the university. 

And, if you don’t mind, I’m going to start right at the beginning.

Eight years ago, I designed the very first abacus, the very first steam engine and the very first printing press.  They were produced to wild applause.  They changed the world.  Now, they’re in the museum.  People point and laugh at my designs and wonder what I was thinking, when I drew them out and hired craftsmen to turn them into reality.  Of course they do.

You see, craftsmen – other craftsmen – looked at my designs and said ‘I can do better.’  And they did.  And now their work is in the museum too, because the next generation of craftsmen looked at their work said ‘I can do better too.’  And so on and so on, each successive generation improving upon the work of the previous generation, each generation inspiring the next to do better.  And that is how it has worked since time out of mind.  The man who first learnt to work metal was rapidly superseded by the men who took his original idea and improved upon it.  The man who first carved a wheel, who built a sailing ship, who came up with one of a million bright ideas, launched generations of better and better ideas that can be traces all the way back to the first spark, to the man who showed it could be done.

The university motto is in two parts.  First, we stand on the shoulders of giants.  Those men, the original innovators, are the giants.  Without them, we would not exist.  Second, and in doing so, we become giants ourselves.  Our improvements upon the original innovations lay the groundwork for the improvers and innovators who will follow in our footsteps and carry our work to levels we cannot even begin to imagine.  And the university exists to facilitate innovation, improvement and practical development.  You and your fellows will share your ideas and innovations and bounce off each other to blaze a path into the future, a future that is bright and full of promise … a future that can be ours, if we reach out and take it.

There will be missteps, of course.  There will be bad ideas.  There will be ideas that look good, but aren’t.  There will be impractical ideas; there will be ideas that will be impractical now, but may become practical later.  These ideas will all be tested, without fear, to see which are right and which are wrong.  We will never seek to destroy the spirit of free thought and innovation through stamping on ideas.  Instead, we will question and test every idea and prove it valid – or not.  We will have the right to speak freely – and we will also have the right to be wrong.  To err is human.  We will never make it impossible for someone to recover from their mistakes. 

It will not be easy.  Technology promises to solve all our problems.  And it will.  But, in doing so, it will create new problems.  There will be those who will say that the new problems are worse than the old, that we should turn back before it is too late … but it is already too late.  The new problems will be solved in their turn, as will the problems that will come in the wake of those solutions.  We can, and we must, embrace the future.  And, to do this, we must learn from our mistakes.

There will be two groups of people who will … make things harder for us.  Some of them will try to stop us.  Others will try to pervert us.  And they will think, even as they try to stem the tide or direct it in a certain direction, that they’re doing the right thing.  And, from their point of view, they will not be wrong.  Call them – for want of a better word – conservatives and progressives.

Conservatives do not want the world to change.  They are, in many cases, the powerful who fear anything that might challenge, or weaken, their power.  They are kings and princes and magicians and even wealthy merchants, who do not want the world to change.  But they are also people on the edge, people who cannot afford to risk embracing the future for fear it will destroy them.  A farmer who struggles to grow enough to feed his family will hesitate to embrace new farming techniques, for fear they will fail and his family will starve.  And he is not wrong.  What works in one place may not work in another.  It would be a mistake to force him to embrace a future that could easily destroy him.

At one extreme, a conservative will refuse to admit that something has to change until it is too late.  And then there will be chaos.

Progressives embrace change, to the point it destroys them.  They are, again, often the ones who have nothing to lose.  Why not look to the future, to an idealised world, when the present is so bad?  But they are also the powerful who have forgotten, if they ever knew in the first place, how they became powerful, even as they use their power to impose their ideas on everyone else.  They hack and slash at society without ever realising the damage they do, they destroy the roots of their power even as they make mistakes that blight the lives of everyone below them.  They are so much in love with the idea of progress that it never crosses their mind that they may be progressing right off a cliff.

At the other extreme, a progressive will refuse to admit there is a need for stability, for constants in life, until it is too late.  And then someone will impose order with an iron fist.

Imagine a gate, standing alone in the middle of a field.  A conservative will unthinkingly leave it alone.  It has been there since time out of mind and will remain there long after he is dead.  A progressive will unthinkingly tear it down, on the grounds it serves no useful function.  Neither of them are capable of looking at the gate, determining why it is actually there and then deciding what to do about it.  We must do better. We must actually think about what we’re doing and why.  And why it hasn’t been done already.

And we must acknowledge and learn from our mistakes.

It will not be easy.  There will always be the temptation to slide into a conservative or a progressive mindset.  It is never easy to admit that one might be wrong.  Nor is it easy to see all of the little details, all of the tiny aspects of a problem that will defeat any attempt to solve it from a distance.  There will be those who will focus on the whole and miss the tiny details and those who will allow the tiny details to dominate their minds, so they lose track of the whole.  The only way to avoid disaster is to allow questioning, to allow people to put forward challenges, yet the urge to silence them will be very strong.  It must be quenched.  Those who choose to silence, no matter the provocation, are stepping onto a slippery slope that leads all the way to hell itself.

The university exists under the rule of law.  The rules will not change, no matter who you are.  The administrators don’t care if you’re the heir to a throne or if you were born in a pigsty, if you have magic or not.  You will have the right to have your say, to engage in debate and carry out experiments to tease out the truth.  You will not have the right to have your words accepted without question.  You can talk freely, but no one will be forced to listen and agree.  There will be no formal punishment for speaking your mind.  You will never be forbidden to speak or, in any way, express your ideas.  No one else, however, has to listen to you.  You will have to put your ideas together, and present them, and – if nessicesery – defend them. 

A good idea will stand the test of time.  A bad idea will not.

You will not find it easy.  Many of you come from societies that do not embrace the concept of reasoned debate, let alone freedom of speech.  Others will allow the concept to overwhelm them, to engage in speech without thinking, to push the limits without any purpose beyond shocking and scandalising society.  But you would not be here, listening to me, if you were not at least prepared to try.

The future is within our grasp.  All we have to do is reach out and take it.

36 Responses to “Hearts Eye Commencement Speech”

  1. Mike Thomas January 28, 2021 at 12:49 pm #

    Excellent – as always. The only thing that popped into my head as a readout was when she says “To err is human.” Emily has already worked with non-humans, would she maybe use this as an opportunity to be more inclusive. She also talks about “the man who did this”, and “the man who did that” – again she might have added something about women to. After all, she has already battled to show that gender should not matter at the university.

  2. Dale Switzer January 28, 2021 at 4:01 pm #

    Wow, that’s radical. Someone ought to try that here.

  3. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 28, 2021 at 4:28 pm #

    Off topic (from Emily’s Speech) but I think I’ve read too much SF/Fantasy because if I saw a gate standing alone somewhere, I’d wonder “just where did the gate open to”.

    IE If I opened that gate and walked through, just where would I end up? 😀

  4. MarkR January 28, 2021 at 5:32 pm #

    “They are so much in love with the idea of progress that it never crosses their mind that they may be progressing right off a cliff”

    This sentence reminds me of comment I heard on a project management course:

    “All progress is change, but not all change is progress”,

    and it did make me wonder if Emily should be saying it is the “idea of change” rather than the “idea of progress” that blinds them to their precipice.

    • Danna Micoletti February 1, 2021 at 3:01 pm #

      My dad always said it’s progress when I asked about how come they turn farmland into housing developments. It wasn’t until in University that what my dad didn’t say was progress meant profit.

  5. Ermine Todd, III January 28, 2021 at 5:42 pm #

    Very minor nit on the “speech” … I suggest that it should be more inclusive by explicitly saying “men and women”. First, I think it sets a tone that more closely aligns with Emily’s perspectives and two, because Emily is a woman and is one of those innovators.

    • Jack Hudler January 29, 2021 at 1:04 pm #

      There’s no need to specify gender. Speech is speech regardless of the speakers gender.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 29, 2021 at 3:01 pm #

        And we’re getting a translation of her speech.

        In the language she’s speaking the word translated as “men” may actually mean “people” as in both males & females.

        IE The language may have a term for a group of males & females, a term for a group of males, and a term for a group of females. 😉

    • Fahnir February 4, 2021 at 7:54 pm #

      Emily seems to be regressing as a powerful sorceress in the series, and becoming a caricature of a bad politician…

    • chrishanger March 2, 2021 at 11:15 am #

      Good point.


  6. Dani January 28, 2021 at 7:29 pm #

    “To err is human”, “We stand on the shoulders of giants”… The speech uses partial quotes that work for Earth audiences because they recognize those phrases as halves of longer quotes. They wouldn’t resonate for Emily’s audience.
    That doesn’t mean Emily wouldn’t use such expressions. And maybe the author is choosing expressions for his actual readers rather than for Emily’s imagined listeners.

  7. PhilippeO January 28, 2021 at 7:52 pm #

    – Its too “current politics” for a fantasy worlds. Fantasy world that didn’t even have progressivism yet.
    – Wow, now Chris running to Bothsidesism after running with Trump turned into sedition.
    – It would also be mistake to force someone to NOT embrace a future that is better for him. If someone want to try something new, his parent and neighbour shouldn’t stop him until its proven wrong.
    – Everybody had duty to make world better. If parents make mistake, their children should learn and improve on it. If children make mistake, its children’s children who should learn and repair it, Never the parent.
    – There never would be perfect information on anything. Those who built the Gate might already die and had no descendants. Their descendants might keep it secret because the Gate (or more likely the fences) benefit them only. Or reason to built those gates wouldn’t be understandable to current generation science or morals.

    • BobPM February 3, 2021 at 11:40 pm #

      “now Chris running to Bothsidesism after running with Trump turned into sedition.” Couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, he really has to strain to get there. Progressive movements have never sought change for its own sake. These movements generally arise when the system becomes too corrupt or wealth too concentrated that the oppressed group tries to correct the imbalance. Labor really was exploited when Unions arose to fight back in the early part of the century.

  8. Kell January 28, 2021 at 10:54 pm #

    I think Emily brings up a lot of class and wealth difference but it seems strange that she doesn’t bring up gender differences.

    Sure mages have for the most part gender equality but but not everyone else. Emily has brought men and women innovators into the school but all she says is the men innovators.

    Emily of all people knows better. Charles Baggage gets all the credit but it was Ada Lovelances notes added to his work that quadrupled the size of the finished product that lead to the modern computer.

    In truth there is no father of the modern computer there is a mother. This fact should be reflected in Emilys word choices. She should push for that gender equality too.

  9. wazman1930 January 28, 2021 at 11:53 pm #

    Heart’s Eye story/trilogy I can’t wait!!!

  10. Brian G January 29, 2021 at 1:18 am #

    I couldn’t even get through the whole speech. Just kept thinking how Emily is suddenly well versed in political science when she’s fumbled many of the political situations she’s been involved in. Are you purposely trying to make Emily out to be a hypocrite? She criticizes long pointless speeches & then proceeds to make a long pointless speech.

    • Joseph P Costa January 31, 2021 at 1:15 pm #

      Our well informed favorite author (mine, personally) likes to comment on United States of America politics, and he is not as well informed ad he thinks he is. He has been totally wrong on some items involving the recent presidential election. Now, I understand he lives in Scotland, so he may get his information second hand. Don’t except his character Emily to have any greater wisdom than he does. Now, that said, Christopher is my favorite author for books an his character Emily is my favorite character. (Paul, stay out of this one). Christopher, I would love to communicate directly with regarding my comments herein By the way I like you and Emily (well done on your character “Emily”!

      • Brian G January 31, 2021 at 6:35 pm #

        Well, I do enjoy reading his books for the most part. 🙂 Things like this just take me out of the story. I was expecting Hearts Eye to become a place where the different branches of magic could be studied together at a higher level than Whitehall without the Masters hiding their secrets. Instead we get a sociopolitical industrial mashup. The terms and concepts Emily is using with her audience must be meaningless without her modern context.

      • chrishanger March 2, 2021 at 11:20 am #

        You’re right. I need to say more about magic too.


      • chrishanger March 2, 2021 at 11:20 am #

        Sure. Feel free to email me


    • Dale Switzer February 1, 2021 at 4:14 am #

      I disagree that this speech is a comment on modern American politics. Remember that Emily loved history before being translated into the nameless world. This speech is an attempt by a well-read thinker on how a society in the grip of an Industrial Revolution and concurrent enlightenment can reform itself into a liberal democracy. There is more in here from 1910 than 2020.

      • Brian G February 1, 2021 at 11:32 pm #

        Even 1910 is modern as far as the Nameless world is concerned. There are still places where people crap out of their windows there.

    • Kell February 3, 2021 at 10:58 pm #

      To be fair their is a difference between being a history major and actually being actually good with politics. Emily understands a lot of things ” in theory” not practice. It’s like how I loved learning about the French Revolution but I have no idea about Frances current system or the nitty gritty off how things actually happened. Emily doesn’t truly understand the politics that she changes. If she would have thought at all before interfering like a well intentioned modern person we wouldn’t have a story. Emily always applies her world view and morals to every situation without putting herself in everybody else’s shoes. No I don’t think she is wise. I think she is naive.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard February 3, 2021 at 11:38 pm #

        IMO Emily is “Wise” in that she knows that she doesn’t understand “Politics” especially in the sense of getting people to work together.

    • chrishanger March 2, 2021 at 11:17 am #

      No, but you’re right. I should lampshade it to help get the audience on her side.

      “I hate making long speeches and I’m going to make a long speech to tell you why i hate making long speeches.”

  11. Dave January 29, 2021 at 10:36 pm #

    Good Grief people. One of the many things I enjoy about the SIM universe is that it’s not gender centric. Why try to force issues from our universe onto a fantasy setting? Can you imagine what would happen if Chris did? We’d have all those people who support the concept of gender fluidity, etc, up in arms because Chris only uses 2 genders!! Let’s keep our world issues out of this and just enjoy the stories that Chris wants to tell.

    • Dale Switzer January 30, 2021 at 5:29 am #

      You would think that people would learn from “The Last Jedi” that trying to force current political issues into fantasy worlds is a sure way to destroy the franchise.

      • Brian G January 30, 2021 at 11:57 pm #

        Agreed. I’m not interesting in thinking about the modern political climate through the lens of the Nameless world. I’d just turn on the news.

      • Brian G January 30, 2021 at 11:58 pm #


  12. Chad Cline January 30, 2021 at 1:33 pm #

    This feels like Emily is channeling a very narrow perspective from modern day Earth. So much so you have to wonder was she possessed by a demon who used to have a radio talk show? lol

    It also feels feels like she is possessed by one of those people who are trying to straddle the middle of a political debate and say something profound which on a closer look isn’t really saying much of anything. Maybe it isn’t a radio talk show host. Maybe it is just a demon who binge watched cable news. Either was it is definitely someone with an earth perspective who is very interested in a modern day “left” and “right” paradigm of politics to the point that they see that paradigm as a universal law of the universe like the law of gravity. Perhaps Newton’s law of pomposity? lol

  13. George Phillies January 30, 2021 at 4:15 pm #

    Emily is attemtping to give them sensible advice instead of contemporary antisiderism nonsense, Speech is excellent. I am not sure commencement is the right word.

  14. Pekka Kohonen February 1, 2021 at 2:13 am #

    The part about progressives seems a bit muddled. And I agree with those that said that it seems too much anchored in present day Earth politics. An interesting piece as a blog writing though. Maybe what Emily says should be more rooted to happenings in her world. Presumably this is after the current run of the series is finished, so I suppose there will be references that are understandable in the context of what happens in the last book. Will it be common knowledge that she comes from another world?

  15. Dale Switzer February 1, 2021 at 4:21 am #

    I believe I understand where Emily is saying. The “Progressives” in her speech are not the socialists/bernie bros of our world. They are people who want the world to “progress” in a direction which gives them more power over others. They want to replace a world of control by aristos with a world of control by whichever group they identify (sorcerers, merchants, etc).

    The “Conservatives” of this speech are not the Trumpkins of our world. They are those who reflexively hate any change – more like the old European Tories who sought to preserve the power of royalty.

    • BobPM February 3, 2021 at 11:32 pm #

      Sounds like the classic definitions of Libel and Conservative. Classic conservatives are the people who want to preserve the status quo power structure whether aristocracy, patriarchy, or oligarchy. The classic liberals are those that seek to devolve more power to the masses.

      Not sure there is a good definition for a progressive, but the idea that they embrace change for change’s sake seems very superficial. It seems to me progressive movements generally see an injustice against a group and act to correct the problem. Maybe sometimes with unpredictable consequences, but that seemed to be the point of the hypothetical speech.

  16. Matt Harris February 19, 2021 at 7:00 am #

    It is quite possible that Emily’s views and our wonderful author’s are different.

  17. Sergey F. February 23, 2021 at 1:30 am #

    So that means Emily is going to survive, right? Latest installment got me really worried

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