Thursday, April 12, 2012


Today begins the fifth annual Undergraduate Ethics Symposium (UES) sponsored by the Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University. Each year undergraduates from around the country submit works exploring some ethical issue - either analytic papers or creative pieces (this year we had over ninety submissions). After a rigorous review process, some thirty are accepted. Those students are then brought to campus, at the Prindle's expense, for an intense weekend of ethical conversation. The students share their work with each other in small seminars led by visiting faculty who serve as discussion leaders and also give a talk to the assembled attendees. It's a heady, exhilarating weekend for all involved.

This is my fourth time attending the UES. I came first as one of the visiting faculty members: as soon as I walked in the door of the Prindle Institute, I fell in love, and I think it's fair to say that they fell in love with me, too. I was invited back the following year in the same role. Then I was invited to join the Prindle for a full year as a visiting professor, and so last year I attended the UES simply as a guest, to build excitement for my year-long stay. And now this year I'm the keynote speaker for the conference, as well as a seminar leader yet again.

I'm excited to see the students begin to arrive this afternoon, but this year I'm also mildly terrified as well. It feels different to be the keynote speaker. And our wonderfully enthusiastic director of the Prindle Institute, Bob Steele, made the mistake of saying during a recent Prindle staff meeting that he was sure my talk would be the "stemwinder" to kick off the weekend's festivities.

None of us had ever heard that term before. Apparently, it means a terrific rousing speech - according to, it means "a. something remarkable of its kind; b. a rousing speech, especially a stirring political address; or c: a stirring orator."

Ever since he said that, the thought of my stemwinder has weighed heavily upon me. I can't sleep, wondering if my stemwinder will be appropriately stemwindery. I was planning on recycling a previous talk, as the theme of the symposium this year is "Ethics and Relationships: Friends, Family, and Community," and I have a talk that I thought would be perfect for the occasion: "The Ties That Bind: What Do We Owe to Our Families - and Why?" Oh, but is it a stemwinder?

So now it's the day of the symposium. My talk is at 7:30 tonight. I have a few more hours to add some stemwindery touches, if I can think of some. I have a few. But do I have enough? I'm a decent speaker. But am I a stirring orator? At least, by bedtime tonight, it will all be behind me, either way, and I can rest on my stemwinder laurels, if laurels there be.


  1. I wish I could have heard the stemwinder. I am sure it was a doozie!

  2. I think it turned out okay, Peggie. Don't know about doozie, or stemwinder, for that matter, but I gave it my best.