In academia, as elsewhere, there are all sorts of ostensibly significant distinctions between past achievements, current projects, and planning. The ubiquity of the planning is probably more than just as administrative obsession, more than just a salient illustration of the corporate influence on higher education. For one would be hard-pressed to find another arena of human activity that is more inherently forward-thinking than higher education.
As we approach the beginning of another academic year, it is worth considering that the last day of each academic year is called “commencement”—pointedly illustrating the academic emphasis on blurring the usual distinctions between beginnings and endings, on viewing each conclusion or achievement as a fresh point of beginning. We see this emphasis in the successive cohorts of students whom we teach, in the research that we do, and, more broadly, in the ways in which we replenish our faculty ranks.
The cynic in me can’t help but suggest that this repetitive pattern may simply indicate that we need to keep starting fresh because we never quite get it right—that we are like cats forever chasing our tails. But the optimist in me can’t help but assert that this annual, cyclic pattern of trying to teach and to do research more effectively than we have done those things previously is something that energizes us and that sustains the profession.
Under each expression of cynicism, and God knows there is more than enough to be cynical about, there is an optimist hoping to be proven wrong.
The refrain to the theme song to Craig Ferguson’s late-night television show closes: “Hey, hey, tomorrow’s just your future yesterday.”
The wordplay in this lyric is very clever, but it barely hints at the richness of the English language when it comes to describing our most immediate distinctions between past, present, and future.
The following list has appeared at Futility Closet [www.futilitycloset.com] and is re-posted here with the permission of Greg Ross, who maintains that site.
adj. of the day before yesterday
adv. on the day before yesterday
n. yesterday evening
adv. yesterday afternoon
n. yesterday at noon
adj. of or relating to the previous day
adj. of yesterday
adj. of yesterday
adv. last night
adj. of or belonging to the present day
adv. on the day after tomorrow