This morning Southwest Airlines whisked me from Cleveland to Chicago in a tidy 50 minutes, depositing me at my gate a full 30 minutes early. With extra time before my appointment, I sat in the airport and prepared for my meeting. On my way out, I noticed a banner, highly hung and proudly placed, welcoming me to Chicago. It read: “Welcome to Chicago, home to 90 Nobel Prize Winners (We can’t get by on looks alone).”
As is usual with airports, there were many advertisements beckoning to us travelers and enticing us to partake in the hedonistic pleasures of Las Vegas–what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas–or to enjoy the epicurean delights of Paris, or to indulge in the sybaritic sinfulness of Sun City, or some other city attracting us with promises of self-gratifying delights. These advertisements accentuate each city’s ability to serve as Sirens, awakening and encouraging its visitors (us) to surrender to our most prurient, slothful, indolent behaviors. Clearly, our best angels remain in the airport, awaiting the return of our lesser selves from unspeakable and barely imaginable joys.
It felt good to arrive in Chicago and to be greeted by a sign boastfully proclaiming that this city is one that celebrates and prides itself on its ability to produce stalwart men and women and to serve as home to thoughtful men and women who have understood our world and who seek to improve it. Chicago proclaims it intellectual roots and honors its intellectual capital: 90 Nobel Prize winners call Chicago home. Even on Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Chicago, once renowned as the hog-butcher to the world, wants to be known for something more: it wants to be known as a city that will challenge its visitors and denizens to visit its science museums, its art museums, its cultural centers, its think tanks to celebrate the best of what humanity has produced. Chicago is a city for people who want to enjoy themselves, but it is also a city for people who want to think, to imagine, and to improve themselves. Chicago is for those who want to stretch themselves and measure themselves against the very best–90 Nobel Prize winners call Chicago home. What a perfect (and remarkable) city to host a conference of educators. I think that we picked the right city for this conference. And, having seen just a smidgen of the town so far, it could survive on its looks alone. Here, in Chicago, exist barely imaginable joys. I encourage you to explore.