Sun Ra - Column for 3/17

Address to Prospective Students

A-hem. Hem.

Right. Be silent, or I shall silence you.

That's better. And serves as a fine example of why we are all here. Or rather, why you are all here. Why I am here, we shall get to in a moment.

My name is Dean Polk. That's right, Polk. Whatever you may have heard about wizards having names like Snigglebottom or Polysebius, forget it. If any of you, upon becoming a wizard, feel like changing your name to Snigglebottom, you may be my guest. I rather doubt anyone will.

Ahem.

You are all here because the North American Academy of Thaumaturgy has invited you to become students of thaumaturgy at our institution. Ahem. We have chosen you, in particular, for three reasons.

First, it has been determined that you possess thaumaturgical aptitude. Don't bother asking how we know. You'll find that out in fifth year.

Second, you have excelled in your scholastic pursuits. The minumum SAT score in this room, of those who have taken the SAT, is 1480. If that is you, go ahead and feel inadequate.

Again, don't bother to ask how we know.

Third, none of you are socially inept. Amongst you are thirteen class presidents, eighty-nine club presidents, and twenty-two all star athletes. You will at this point remove the image of a wizard as an awkward, unsocial, weak person - a "geek" - permanently from your imagination. No wizard graduating from this institution will be anything less than elite. There is no room for losers amongst the corpus of wizards.

Ahem. Wizards.

Wizards.

If you decide to attend the Academy, you will recieve nine years of education in thaumaturgy. There is no tuition. Students live on campus, in free housing, with free meals. In fact, there is little for them to spend money on. Consumer electronics are disallowed. Automobiles are disallowed. Students may have what is provided to them by the Academy and whatever amenities their skills can provide. Which, for the first several years, is nothing.

Discipline at the Academy is strict. Violate a rule during your first four years, and you will be expelled. Violate a rule after that, and in addition to expulsion, the student will have all thaumaturgical aptitude burned out of them.

There is no sugar coating on this, ladies and gentlemen. You will devote yourself entirely to study. Intensive study, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Oftimes in the upper levels, more than that. It is exceptionally onerous.

All of you can do the work. We would not have proffered the invitation if any of you could remotely be expected to fail. The Academy does not have grades. You test, and you pass. Nothing else is acceptable.

Ahem.

In return for nine years of unstinting effort, you will become wizards. It is that simple. The fabric of creation will be yours to play with.

There are no limits - we have found no limits - on what a wizard can do. None. In fact, the only limiting factor on a wizard is other wizards. The world exists as it does today only because we have forbidden each other to change it.

I would expect all of you to enroll. Not all of you will, for various reasons. Family, other life goals you'd rather pursue... and fear. Fear of the difficult, and the dangerous. All of you are feeling it, right now. Some of you will succumb to it.

And to those who do:

We don't want you. To a wizard, fear exists solely to be overcome. There are many reasons the Academy is the way that it is, but one of the major reasons for it being so difficult is to train you to overcome difficulty. To that end, it is as difficult as we can make it. More difficult than you think it is even now.

But for none of you is it impossible.

Ahem.

Very well. I will now take questions from the audience. If the question is impertinent, I may dis-intigrate you where you sit.

That was a joke.

No, honestly. Ask questions.

Yes, you in the front. Yes, that's right. Although murder of Academy students is not allowed, and has not happened in the eighty-two years that I have been dean, the potential for accidents is high. This year's graduating class had a loss rate of twelve percent. Yes, killed. This is a dangerous lifestyle, sir. Next question.

Yes, sir. Yes, eighty-two years. Wizards live forever.

Actually, that is not precisely correct. Wizards never die of natural causes. As I stated, there are no limits on a wizard's power, and no wizard opts to age. Wizards only die when something very actively kills them. Usually this is another wizard. Next question.

Ah, an excellent question, madam. Why on Earth would we train new wizards? Why give anyone else access to such power?

Ahem. Because a group of wizards is more powerful than an individual wizard. Much more powerful. Therefore, it is good to belong to such a group. In fact, it is impossible to survive these days if you do not.

At present, there are perhaps four schools of thaumaturgy in the world. All of them form conentious but surprisingly cohesive alumni groups. Simply put, we will train you to be wizards because we want more wizards on our side. Next question.

Sports? I am disappointed, madam. You seem to have not absorbed my admonishment about the workload. Hm.

However... yes, there are organized athletic activities at the school. In fact, there seems to be sufficient time for recreation of all sorts. Despite the best efforts of the instructors.

You would be advised, though, to put aside any pre-concieved notions of athletics. The sports at the Academy are almost wholly different than those you have heretofore known. Many of them do not involve gravity.

Next question.

No, you may not visit the campus before you decide. Next question.

A good question. Allow me to rephrase it.

What if, knowing that you have thaumaturgical aptitude, you do not enroll at the Academy, but decide to pursue learning thaumaturgy through some other avenue? A good question, with a simple answer.

You will be killed.

Not by any action on behalf of the Academy, I assure you. But at some point, relatively soon, you would be noticed by another, more powerful wizard, and that wizard would kill you. There is no place in wizardry for non-aligned individuals. Only through the graces of an existing group of wizards who have an interest in your becoming a wizard can you avoid being eliminated while you take your first steps.

Let me take a moment here to clear something up.

Wizards do not like sharing power. The existance of other wizards means that whatever you do can be undone, countered, prevented. Since the power you wield is otherwise limitless, this can be very frustrating. Therefore, wizards generally kill each other if they get the chance.

To defend themselves, every wizard is constantly surrounded by thousands and thousands of protective spells. Standing here in front of you at this moment, I have a shell of twenty seven thousand, four hundred and thirty two protective spells around me. All wizards go everywhere protected like this at all times.

No one will take the time to get through all those spells to get me. There are many layers of redundancy, and I can put the spells back up faster than anyone can get through them. To kill a wizard, you have to come at him in a new way. Which is why wizards don't like change.

My predecessor was killed through the use of a telephone, in nineteen-twenty-one. There was a particular contingency that could occur in conjunction with the use of a telephone that he had not anticipated, and someone used that to kill him. No, it was not me. The point is, wizards are conservative because to try new things means to put oneself at risk.

And, to bring myself back to the original question, it is impossible to learn thaumaturgy by one's self, or in a small group, because you cannot be sufficiently protected until you have had years of training. It is a bit of a chicken and egg problem. The Academy provides you with the necessary protection until you are capable of providing it yourself.

Oh, and please, don't call it 'magic'. Magic is what magicians do. Slight of hand and card tricks. Wizards practice thaumaturgy.

Next question.

The other schools of thaumaturgy? If you can find them. If they have not contacted you already, it is highly unlikely that they will do so in the future. The same goes for those of you thinking "apprentice". Yes, put those hands down. That sort of thing disappeared centuries ago. Next question.

Ah. Why now, at this age? An interesting question, and one we get every year. Because only now you are mature enough to learn what we have to teach. Why should we bother teaching children? All of you have learned the mundane disciplines - trigonometry, calculus, poetry - that we would simply have to waste our time teaching to children. Any mundane teacher can do as well. Hm.

Additionally, as I have mentioned, we select only the very best candidates. Choosing candidates at an earlier age would give us less information about the inherent quality of the candidate. Next question.

Yes, poetry. Please, do not assume you know anything about the use of thaumaturgy. Next question.

Good question. Students may not leave the Academy grounds for their first two years. Subsequent to that, they may leave for two weeks a year, at their discretion. Transportation to and from the Academy is not an issue. Next question.

Also a good question. The entire year at the Academy is used for instruction. There are four week-long breaks between instruction during a given year. Dismiss entirely the idea of 'vacation'. Nor do we observe holidays. Next question.

Ah- ah- stop. Stop. Someone always asks a question about some percieved paradox in the use of thaumaturgy. Usually it involves time. Sir, what did I just say? You don't know anything about it. Not even enough to ask the question.

I can tell by the quality of the questions that you have exhausted the relevant ones. I thank you all for coming. Ahem. Those of you who wish to attend the Academy, simply fill out the application form which we have provided. Upon signing it, a representative will appear at your door to collect you. Let me emphasise that - the moment you sign the application, it is time to go.

You all have a month to make your decision. Historically, candidates have found it appropriate to wait almost the entire month before signing. Go see some movies. Go to the zoo. Play videogames.

It will all seem almost laughably prosaic, in retrospect. Good evening.

- Sun Ra

Columns by Sun Ra