Speaking at Wabash College Monday afternoon, Chief Judge Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals outlined the history of civic engagement in the United States and encouraged the students to become involved.
“Americans have never assumed that government is the source of all wisdom or all solutions,” Wood said. “Indeed, sometimes we have taken this view to a fault but, for the most part, that attitude has stood us in good stead.”
Wood visited the all-men liberal arts college to receive the Donald W. Peck Medal for Eminence in the Law. The Chief Judge of the Chicago appellate court spoke for about 45 minutes in Baxter Hall then attended the 44th annual Peck Dinner.
Attorney and associate visiting professor of political science Scott Himsel introduced Wood by highlighting her reputation for consensus building.
He pointed to the recent Hively v. Ivy Tech decision in which Wood pulled together a majority that included some well-known conservative judges on the court to rule that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“The Peck Medal serves not only to recognize eminence in the law but also to allow our college to recognize role models who show us how to live out our mission statement values of critical thinking and humane action,” Himsel said. “We could think of no more worthy recipient than our speaker tonight.”
The Peck Medal was established to honor Wabash alumnus David W. Peck who practiced law for many years at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York and served as presiding justice of the courts in Manhattan and the Bronx.
Wood held the attention of her audience, making observations on the world today, telling stories of her own experiences and injecting humor. After she finished her remarks, the students asked questions ranging from provision of legal services to the indigent to international law. They continued talking to her as they escorted her across campus to the dinner.
Her lecture, titled “Public Service and Private Initiative: An American Tradition,” called attention to Americans’ long history of being joiners, forming groups and associations around shared interests and common goals. Wood pointed out Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1830s of the citizens forming associations and engaging in an array of activities from building churches, establishing hospitals and starting schools.
She listed her own memberships which include the “most highly specialized group,” the International Double Reed Society. Wood is an oboe player and, as she explained, the IDRS consists only of oboists, English hornist and bassoonists. “No clarinetists invited,” she said.
Within the United States, Wood noted there is more room for individual actions and community-based groups to often work side-by-side with the government. Public efforts are not enough and can never be enough, she said.
Wood closed by quoting the Greek mathematician Archimedes who said, “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth.”
“Those words should inspire you today. You have a place to stand – your values and the fine education you are receiving here at Wabash,” Wood told the students, adding they can also draw upon their connections with their families, friends, the Wabash community and their own imaginations. “With those, I am confident you will lead the world.”