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The Dignity Tour: Second Reflection

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Susan Russell

Susan Russell, the 2014-15 Penn State Laureate and associate professor of theater, is taking her "Dignity Tour" to Commonwealth Campuses, high schools and other locations across Pennsylvania, discussing "various languages of creativity, and how these languages can bridge communication gaps between diverse cultures and disciplines." She is also maintaining a website,, where her students post videos, images, music and texts intended to inspire people to thrive for their highest personal and collective goals as global citizens. Russell is reflecting on her laureate experiences through a series of essays. Her second essay appears below. You can read her first essay here. Previous essays and posts about her travels are archived at

The Dignity Tour: Second reflection

The good news: everyone wants dignity. The bad news: everyone is having difficulty defining the word. In the last two months, I have been to four Penn State campuses and two high schools, I have given three keynote speeches, attended several faculty and staff retreats, and worked with my students to build an interactive website at All of these events have circled the same question: “What is dignity?” In every location we stumble about trying to find words and phrases to describe this basic human right. As a playwright, I ask myself to use “saturated” words, words that are full of meaning, words that disappear into people’s conscious minds and emerge as emotions and actions and memories. It’s a playwright’s job to choose words that “do” something. It’s a playwright’s job to choose words that change people’s experience, and it’s a playwright’s job to find a domino, a word that once it’s spoken, it falls into all the other words leaving nothing but self-knowledge behind. In order for an audience to know what dignity is, a playwright must find its action. Dignity must have a “do.”

For the rest of Russell's essay, click here.