ONE of the nation's noted university presidents is to get an honorary degree this spring. It is not his first. In fact, he already has 103 others. One wonders what in the world he does with nearly nine dozen certificates, diplomas, and colorful hoods. He must have a special closet for caps and gowns.
Certain television anchormen, presidents of businesses, popular entertainers, and sports stars have a mere 15 or 20 such awards. Is there much distinction left in being rewarded thus by some college?
Perhaps the second honor that is approaching meaninglessness is being named as an emeritus this or that. It began with being called an emeritus professor. Today it is pastor emeritus, chairman emeritus, and president emeritus. In some instances it is professor emeritus, rather than the other way around; I've never understood the difference.
Of course the title in academic circles means a promotion. An emeritus professor is a step beyond full professor. It brings only a dry raise, however. As a matter of fact, he or she ceases to have a salary on being thus promoted, except for a pension, which the teacher has paid for in part anyway.
All these who get honorary degrees and the emeritus title no doubt are worthy, but they are being lost in the swamp of honors descending on Americans. There are medals for this, certificates for that, and figurines for something else. Grade schools, high schools, and colleges have rooms full of silver cups, platters, and statuettes won by the pupils. There probably are more such objects than there are people in the land.
It's not that the populace is without honor. But when honors come so easily they lose their value. So that matters get no worse, I want to propose a new reward. This idea may seem contradictory, but read on. It's not as inconsistent as it sounds.
Let's arrange for the United Nations or some other world body to award an inexpensive certificate to be called The Paragon Scroll, and have some rules for its rewarding. It should be large, even clumsy, and resemble one of the Dead Sea scrolls. It would be printed deliberately on perishable paper, guaranteed to disappear within five years. Thus the grandchildren of the honored one won't have to decide what to do with this thing later. No medal, no ring, no pin, no key - just a short-lived honor and a scroll. And, unlike the Nobel award, The Paragon Scroll could be won only once in a lifetime. That will cut down some of the traffic in honors.
A check with it? No. It must be valued as an honor, not as a source of income.
I'd like to suggest the first winner. Just give me time to think of exactly the right person. There's Dr. S. No, he got something from Harvard last year. How about Ms. the writer? No, she won the Newbery medal two years ago. Wait. I'll come up with a name soon. Offhand, everyone I know has been recognized. I'll consult some lists and see if anyone's been left out. Just give me time. There must be someone....
Roland E. Wolseley is a free-lance writer living in Syracuse, New York.