Jack Hernandez

When I came to BC many years ago, I saw by the front door of the administration building a plaque dated 1955, with the words “Only the Educated are Free.” I was beginning my teaching career in English and philosophy and was struck by this statement expressing the ideal served by Bakersfield College.

“Only the Educated are Free.” What does this mean, and how does it relate to BC? After having seen so many students come to BC and thinking of our community’s support for Measure J, I believe it means that freedom enables each one us to discover who we really are and what our journey in life should be. I believe that BC helps its students on their paths to freedom.

“Only the Educated are Free.” Freedom means not imprisoned by poverty. We can only discover and live our true way in life if we do not have to worry endlessly about shelter and food. That kind of freedom means finding work that pays well, well enough for us to see paths open to us. BC helps students attain this freedom by providing career paths, paths that will lead to meaningful, productive and well-paying work.

“Only the Educated are Free.” Yet, we can be free of the chains of poverty and still not be free. Freedom means that we can examine our thinking, our lives, our society, and our world. Socrates knew this when he pointed out that the unexamined life is not worth living. Plato knew this when he exhorted us to leave the dark ignorance of the cave and climb to the sunlight of truth. To do this, we must have self-knowledge and knowledge of our world.

With self-knowledge we can distinguish between what others say we should be and believe and our true self, our true desires, knowledge and abilities. With knowledge of the world we can understand history, politics, society, science, technology, religion, philosophy, art, music, literature and all the other forces that have formed and continue to form the context of our lives. That is not to say we will all have the same beliefs, but that our beliefs will be informed by what we have learned. We will be free to think for ourselves and to build our true lives. This, of course, is a lifelong road as we change and the world changes.

“Only the Educated are Free.” To be free means liberation from ideas and prejudices that limit the freedom of others. To be free is to help others to be free, to discover and live good, productive, meaningful lives. To be free is to love our neighbors, near and far, as ourselves.

Bakersfield College has for its long history provided students with the opportunity to attain this freedom. Yet to continue to do so effectively, the college’s many facilities need to be upgraded and its reach to its many communities improved. That’s why Measure J was so important. So very vital to BC’s service to its students. That’s why all of us at BC say “thank you” to our wonderful community!

“Only the Educated are Free.” The plaque by the doors of the administration building is old and barely readable, but its ideal shines at Bakersfield College.

Jack Hernandez is an emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Bakersfield College.