New Students Welcome Sir Salman Rushdie

Be brutal with the idea but respectful of the person who holds it was a primary message offered by Sir Salman Rushdie during the late August Opening Convocation at Willamette.

Packed with new students and their parents, the audience in Smith Auditorium responded to the internationally respected author with two standing ovations and enthusiastic applause as he discussed with wit and insight his formative years as a student -- first at boarding school and then as an undergraduate.

"There are three mistakes you can make in boarding school," said Rushdie. "Be clever, be foreign and be bad at games. I hit the trifecta." While boarding school was not a positive experience for Rushdie, he found a much more inviting and positive experience at Cambridge University where he attended King's College beginning in 1965.

"University is that moment when you come away from the stricture of high school and have the first adult experience of your life. In University, you work out who you are. You experiment with yourself and try on different skins. Through this process you work out what you will be and won't be. It is your portal to the adult world. You are a migrant and university is where you begin to make your way."

He added, "The thing I learned most at Cambridge was that you should be as brutal as possible toward ideas but as courteous as possible to the people who hold them. The undergraduate experience is transforming. You learn to be tolerant and open to new ideas. You learn that scholarship doesn't seek self -- it seeks the work."

It's clear that Rushdie credits his experiences at Cambridge more than he credits his degree in history. He managed a good natured tease when he said, "Throughout my life, no one has ever asked me what kind of degree I got or even if I've got one at all. I have to say it's been useless."

Rushdie is the author of such international best-sellers as Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses. The latter was deemed sacrilegious by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, who issued a fatwa against Rushdie in 1989. Despite this proclamation, and the international controversy that followed, Rushdie went on to produce some of his most compelling work, including The Moor's Last Sigh and The Ground Beneath Her Feet while living under the constant threat of death. His most recent novel, Shalimar the Clown, was an international best-seller and a nominee for both the Man Booker Prize and Commonwealth Writer's Prize.