On February 15, 2014, at a reception for Fellows held in Chicago in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Alan Alda spoke about the honor of being elected to the Academy and the opportunity Fellows have to help the Academy address critical challenges facing our global society. The following is an edited version of his remarks.
Alan Alda is an actor, writer, and director. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy in 2006.
As Fellows of the American Academy, we probably all had the same reaction when we received the letter notifying us of our election: “Oh, my God. John Adams wants me to be in a club with him! And Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson too.” What an amazing group of people they were. They founded a country – and they propelled that country more than two hundred years into the future. I sometimes think about the high percentage of smart and engaged people who lived back then. There were between 2 and 3 million people in the colonies. Today, we have more than a hundred times that many. Shouldn’t we have a hundred times as many people like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams – people engaged and smart enough to propel us into the next two hundred years? And not long ago, as I was thinking about that, it hit me: There are people in this country capable of that vision. Many of them are here in this room, along with Academy Fellows who are not here tonight – people who, if they engage together, can work on some of the problems that now try our souls. And we certainly have plenty of problems. All it takes is a measure of commitment. So, if you are asked to participate in a project of the Academy – if you are asked to write a piece for Dædalus, or to take part in a project in which your expertise would count, or even just to nominate for membership somebody whose thinking would be valuable to have among everybody else’s – I hope you will give it serious thought. If the Academy’s founders could pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, we can certainly pledge a little of our time and thought. The Academy is a wonderful organization. It has great promise, but the promise will only be fulfilled if we commit ourselves a little. It is an honor to be asked to join the Academy. It is a shame not to do something to further the mission of this great institution.
© 2014 by Alan Alda