Remarks at the 2017 Pulitzer Prize Lunch

May 22, 2017

One of the oddities of life is that the more bleak the world becomes—the less people seem to care about what is true and what is false, or to accept the constraints and the benefits of reason, or to provide coherent explanations for what you are deciding or doing, or to internalize in one’s being the intellectual and emotional principles of civilized thought, or to embrace the spirit of tolerance that in the end holds together everything we value in life amidst a world inevitably, and happily, made up of differences—the more we admire, value, and realize we should never take for granted the examples of individuals and institutions of extraordinary integrity, on all these counts, like the Pulitzer Prizes and its awardees. 

When the Western World plunged into the depths of depravity in the First World War, many looked for ways, once again, to help us aspire even more than before towards the best of human achievements in this regard.  Here at Columbia the famous Core Curriculum was invented, with every beginning student brought together in small classes, led and nurtured by a professor who was not an expert in the field, reading classic texts and thinking about their implications for contemporary issues.  In the nation, the first Supreme Court cases began what has become in the history of nations the deepest exploration of the meanings of the fundamental principles of freedom of speech and press, embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution.  And the Pulitzer Prizes were established.

I can say, without any allowance for the fact that we are here today to recognize the most recent class of remarkable recipients of the Prizes, that the hallowed process of this amazing institution continues to be all we would want and hope for, as measured by the values that motivated its creation.  Personally, I can testify that I have never been part of any group that does it better.  For us collectively, the Pulitzer Prizes are an even more shining monument at this particular moment in history.  For you, the recipients, it means that you can take even more pride in being honored with the Prizes at today’s ceremony.

Thank you, and let’s now turn to the joyful task of giving out the Prizes.