Remarks by Professor Lyn Hejinian on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize

October 2015, Durant Hall, University of California, Berkeley. 

 

How people live their lives sometimes tells others why they do so. What we do matters very much, and it often matters endlessly. To inflict a small cruelty or bestow a large kindness can change someone’s life. And in so doing, it can change the lives of others down the line—sometimes way down the line. At any given moment, we have no way of knowing how or even if what we do matters—but I do truly believe that it does. And it isn’t just what we do, but the manner in which we do it that matters.

What can you do—and, how can you do it? This is not two questions but one, and it speaks to the essence of the Stronach Baccalaureate Prize. It also speaks to the character and imagination of the person who founded it. The questioner—the real voice of the Stronach Baccalaureate Prize—is Ray Lifchez. And the Prize’s muse is Judith Stronach, Ray’s wife, who passed away in 2002. Judith Lee Stronach devoted her working life to arts advocacy and human rights work in the broadest sense of “rights”: the right to safety, the right to live free of violence from war or torture unjust imprisonment, the right to have housing and enough to eat, and the right to make and enjoy art. She was a published poet

The Stronach Baccalaureate Prize program was conceived in Judith Stronach’s memory and out of distress at injustice, cruelty, misery. But that is a small part of its prehistory. It was also conceived out of a vision of justice, kindness, and happiness—not as singular conditions existing at single places but as lasting contributions to the currents of history. Ray Lifchez carries out acts of kindness; he furthers justice and happiness—and the enormous labor, thought, emotional intelligence, and commitments of time and energy—the commitments of life—that make them possible.

The Stronach Baccalaureate Prize is part of the ongoing social praxis that Ray Lifchez commits himself to day by day. The Prize is intrinsic to Ray’s manner of living—it is a manifestation of the how of his doing: its generosity, its vision, and its penchant for practicable compassion.

In my own work over the years, I have given a great deal of thought to what an activist aesthetics might look like. The question I began with queried artistic work’s ability to have political efficacy or to effect progressive social change. But for the last ten years, I have had a different model of activist aesthetics to learn from. In a struggle for public good—for justice, kindness, happiness—we should be paying attention not primarily to the political efficacy of art but to the aesthetic efficacy of the political: making contributions to the beauty of life’s possibilities and to the possibilities for beauty in life. In initiating the Stronach Baccalaureate Prize, Ray Lifchez offered an original and abiding challenge to graduating UC Berkeley seniors who might apply for it: develop a project that will contribute to the social good and will entail an element of creative artistry. What might be included under the rubric of “social good” or of the “creative” remains undefined. This is in part so as not to limit what applicants might imagine possible or pertinent. In coupling work for the public good with creative work, what the Stronach Baccalaureate Prize really asks young people to do is to make something socially beautiful.

To make something socially beautiful. This means to live and work beautifully, to live and work in the manner of beauty.

This is exactly Ray Lifchez’s manner. It was also the manner of Judith Lee Stronach.

I would like to invite us all to be thankful together, here and now, for Judith Stronach’s legacy, and for its embodiment in the Stronach Baccalaureate Prize. May it continue long and well. And let’s together express our gratitude and admiration for this most extraordinary and beloved and benevolent visionary, Raymond Lifchez.