The Forum | General Education

Miami University Trustee: “The Humanities Make this World a Better Place”

February 25, 2019

"The study of human experience instills a spirit of humility, civility, and empathy in all one does." The following is adapted from a speech that John W. Altman gave on February 21, 2019 at Miami University, where he serves as a trustee.

At a time in America when higher education, and especially the humanities, have come under significant criticism, I am often asked why I continue to enthusiastically support the humanities. The answer is that I believe the humanities sit center stage to becoming an educated person, with a life of purpose and meaning.

Embracing English, history, philosophy, literature, and languages prepares you for a lifetime of enjoyment AND employment. As an example of the latter, I point to many of my fellow Miami University trustees here tonight, who like myself have been steeped in the humanities, resulting in their very successful and productive careers in all walks of life.

The beauty that the humanities create in both poetry and prose stimulate our introspections about what is is to be truly human, both as individuals and societies. The humanities provide the tools that will make this world a better place, as well as the skill sets that will be required, as you change jobs and careers more times than you’ve changed your undergraduate major!

Some skills learned in the technical arenas of our great University will be obsolete before you flip your tassel. The humanities, however, lay the foundation for critical thinking, persuasive writing, solving problems after careful research, effective leadership, and the pursuit of truth. These skills will never be obsolete!

The study of human experience also instills a spirit of humility, civility, and empathy in all one does. 

This is why I continue to invest in the humanities at Miami University, my alma mater, so that you too can say, “In such a place I lived such a life.”

I charge you tonight to invest your time, treasure, and talent in joining all of us in making this great University, and the world we live in, a better place.

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John W. Altman was the first in his South Side Chicago family to graduate from high school, university, and graduate school. He is an alumnus of Miami University (class of 1960), Harvard Business School, & Fuller Theological Seminary. He has been a University Trustee five times, and holds three honorary doctorates.

An Eagle Scout, and U.S. Army Veteran, he finished his career as a three-time endowed chair holder, creating and teaching Entrepreneurship courses at Miami University, Babson College, and the University of California, Berkeley. Now as a serial entrepreneur, he spends his time ‘recycling wealth’ as Chairman of his family Charitable Foundation.


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