There is an old promise, perhaps the boldest promise a people have ever made. It states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all are created equal.” On different corners of this campus today there are many convocations, the law school, the government school, the business school -- each of these noble callings have taken their turn in working to fulfill this most ambitious promise. The law school brought us brown v board, the Kennedy school brought us the civil rights legislation and school choice. The business school brought technological breakthroughs that have empowered the middle class to make it possible for more kids to have access to more ideas, and those have all been indispensable advances that brought us to where we stand today.

Does 'these noble callings' here mean the law school, the government school, the business school? But I don't understand why the speaker expressed it as 'noble callings'. Does that mean what all those shools have done(achieved) are noble and great?

And one more, does that 'empowered' means 'financial support' here?

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    Note that the passage is take from here: gse.harvard.edu/news/14/05/…. -- It's interesting that the site writes brown v board rather than Brown v. Board. – Damkerng T. Apr 2 '17 at 14:55
  • "Convocation" comes from a Latin word that means "call together". In this case, the speaker is using the word as a noun to mean "a group of people who have been called together for a common purpose or interest", like the law school or business school. It's not a large stretch to then see the word "calling" as a synonym that also means "a group of people who have been called together". – Todd Wilcox Apr 2 '17 at 15:21
  • If it seems strange to you to describe business as a noble calling, then you are absolutely correct: this is a good example of empty rhetoric. (In case you are in doubt, empty rhetoric is a bad thing.) – TonyK Apr 2 '17 at 18:15

Does 'these noble callings' here mean the law school, the government school, the business school?

Yes, the noble callings referred to are the law school, the government school (a.k.a. Kennedy school) and the business school. The sentences after the one you've emphasized go on to give an example of how each of these 3 schools have helped make people equal:

  • The law school's example is that of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, where the US Supreme Court ruled that separate schools for black and white students was unconstitutional (which ties back to the 'bold promise' mentioned in the passage that all are created equal).

  • Similarly, the government school brought civil rights legislation and school choice, again tying back to the theme of equality.

  • The business school empowered the middle class to give their children access to more ideas. If you look back at the feudal ages, knowledge was often a key differentiator between the nobility and clergy on one side, and common folk on the other. The empowerment referred to here is the democratization of thought.

does that 'empowered' means 'financial support' here

Empowerment is often far more than financial support. In this context of giving middle class families access to ideas, it could be:

  • Financial support via college scholarships, which allows middle-class children to attend more prestigious colleges and universities

  • Funding publicly accessible libraries

  • Teaching students internet usage and providing internet access in schools and libraries

You'll see that while finances are often part of empowerment, it is not just handing over money, but often utilizing that money to put in a support framework for others to benefit from.

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  • Thanks a lot for your kind answer!! Can I ask you one more?? 'On different corners of this campus today there are many convocations, ..' In this sentence, what's the meaning of 'convocation' here? I looked up the dictionary but there are so many definitions.. so it could be 1)graduation ceremony 2) meeting held by a large number of people and it's hard to guess one. At first I thought it's a graduation ceremony because this is a 'convocation' speech at the Harvard graduate school of education... but does that mean just 'the schools' like business school, law school etc.? – dbwlsld Apr 2 '17 at 11:49
  • In the context of this passage, convocation would stand for graduation ceremony as you rightly guessed. And, this sentence On different corners of this campus today there are many convocations, the law school, the government school, the business school ... implies that each of the schools are conducting their own convocation. – Phylyp Apr 2 '17 at 11:52
  • Thanks again! And can I ask you one last question..? I was just confused if 'the schools' what the speakers saying there (the law school, kennedy school, business school) are all 'grauduate school' or just 'undergraduate school'.. Because in English 'school of business' and 'business school' is different... isn't it? (school of business= for undergraduates/ business school=for graduate school students) – dbwlsld Apr 2 '17 at 12:11
  • and this speech is from harvard graduate school of education. – dbwlsld Apr 2 '17 at 12:12
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    Yes, Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School are also graduate schools. – Phylyp Apr 2 '17 at 12:45

This passage in question is oratory. Orators always put a marked "spin" on a simple fact, casting it in a particular light.

noble calling there is a phrase meant to invoke the idea that these various schools within the university have lofty purposes and are not just means to pecuniary ends. A calling has a higher purpose, one that involves helping or advancing humankind in some way. To refer to a profession as a calling endows it with a much greater value than it would have if it were seen merely as a way to meet one's own personal needs, for food, clothing, shelter, comforts and enjoyment.

With empowerment, a very general term, the author is saying that business schools have led to a number of new technologies which have broadened the range of choices available to children of the middle class, increasing their ability to determine for themselves the direction their lives take.

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