2016 Fall Convocation Address by Dr. J Timothy Cloyd

On August 25, 2016, President Tim Cloyd addressed the students, faculty and staff of Drury University during the Opening Convocation ceremony with the following remarks:

Welcome faculty, staff, parents, Warren White Scholars, and all of our students especially our new students.

I was told that I should speak today for 10 to 15 minutes. When George Bernard Shaw once asked a speaker to limit their remarks to 10 to 15 minutes, the speaker replied, “How will I tell them everything I know in that time?”

“Well, I advise you to speak very slowly...” Shaw said.

A dear friend of mine once summarized a famous novel in the following way:

"In the British novel The Remains of the Day we meet an English butler named Stevens who spent his professional life in service at Darlington Hall, one of the great aristocratic houses of his country. Near the end of his life, Stevens embarks on a journey of reflection as the thinks back on the changes he has witnessed in his profession and in his country during a life that spans the first half of 20th century.

As Stevens reflects back on his life, he recalls conversations shared with butlers from other great houses of England who would visit Darlington with their respective employers. Late at night after their work was finished, the butlers would gather around a table in the kitchen and discuss their profession.

As Stevens recalls these conversations and seeks to make sense of his life’s work, his persistent questions are: “What is the vocation of a butler?” and “What makes a butler great?”

Stevens understands his vocation as one who ensures that the household functions without flaw and with apparent ease. The butler meets needs before they are known and answers requests before they are made. His vocation is to serve.

As the novel unfolds, Stevens achieves a level of self-discovery that leads him to identify complexities in his vocation that had escaped him during his long years of service. He makes these discoveries because he finally is willing to explore the full meaning of a fundamental question in his life:

What is the vocation of a butler?

Vocation implies life calling, and a serious reflection on vocation implies an understanding of a source of that calling. Thinking about vocation requires us to think about the relationship between our most fundamental values and our life work.

The exploration of vocation and calling is a spiritual exercise. It requires us to look deep within ourselves and ask how we understand ourselves and how those understandings are reflected in the lives we lead, where we spend our time and what we do.

What is my calling as one who serves this University? How do I know? What difference does it make?"*

Today, we stand on the shoulders of giants men and women who for almost a century and a half have made the deepest possible commitments in the pursuit of the most audacious ambition: the notion that Drury would provide an academic experience that is transformational for every student it enrolls, and that the content of that education, the quality of the faculty that offers that education, and the accomplishments of the alumni who receive it would be such that Drury would be recognized as one of the nation’s premier institutions.

This requires deep personal sacrifice and audacious ambition.

At the very heart of what we do, our calling is academic excellence in scholarship, in artist expression, in developing professional competence, in mentoring, in teaching inside and outside the classroom, in working on group and individual projects with students and in learning.

Here are some of the Drury academic giants on whose shoulders we stand today:

  • L.E. Meador
  • Frank Clippinger
  • Oscar Fryer
  • Willard Graves
  • G.H. Benton
  • Lora Bond
  • Wilber Bothwell
  • B.F. Finkel
  • Stanley Skimer
  • Rabindra Roy
  • Protima Roy

"Vocation and calling are ultimately spiritual matters. Calling is much more a matter of the heart than of intellect. Calling reflects our deepest passions and our most profound personal values. Calling demands our deepest commitment and offers our most fulfilling rewards. Calling is not a business plan. Calling is not a return on investment. Calling is a passion of the heart."*

Frederick Buechner says that “calling occurs at the intersection of our deepest passions and the world’s greatest needs.” The pursuit of academic excellence is our calling at Drury. If this is your passion, if this is your deepest passion, if you can identify this as a significant part of your life calling, then you have a vocation here.

"You can think about it, but more importantly you will know it in the deepest sense of knowledge that is found in the inner recesses of the soul. Calling comes from deep within, and paradoxically from far beyond. That is why we ask you our students to reflect on both questions:

What is my calling? How do I know?"*

Dag Hammarskjold once wrote that “we are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny, but what we put in it is ours.” In many ways, the frame of our own destiny as scholars, artists, academics, and students was set by those who went before us. They are the giants on whose shoulders we stand today. But what we place in that frame is up to us to decide.

What is it that we continue to place in that frame as a “liberal arts university for the 21st century?” What does that label mean?

It means that we believe it is critical to impart upon students the virtues of the liberal arts and the virtuosity of professional education.

World-class education and teaching informed by scholarship and artistic practice that is our calling.

A liberal arts university imparts through its academic programs fundamental competencies that cultivate that ability to think about the world in which we live. It sows seeds that enable students to grow in ethical, intellectual, creative, communicative, and social qualities that are absolutely necessary indeed, essential for success, for a fulfilled life, and for leadership.

We could become an institution that focuses on technical job skills, exclusively on career preparation or applied learning. There are other places that provide that kind of education.

But consider for a moment if what you were taught and what we learned in our scholarship and creativity was only about specific, highly specialized technology or fields of study say, how to produce buggy whips, 8-track tapes, cassette tapes, or CDs....

"The advancement of knowledge, new technologies and innovation can and will cause “creative destruction.” This can allow you to be on a cutting edge, leap frog competitors and be in market demand. But it can just as easily relegate you to the category of obsolescence.

We have no idea how much fiber optic cable or how many lithium ion batteries will be needed in 10, 20 or 30 years."** For that matter, we do not know what new innovations in nanotechnology, genome mapping or the melding of organic and inorganic materials will produce.

But I am certain that the world will need citizens capable of critical thought, possessed of ethics; the ability to communicate clearly and effectively and who have actually learned how to learn. I believe that the liberal arts combined with a professional competence leads to the creation of these needed citizens.

"Think about it: to have business leaders, politicians, lawyers, scientists and other occupations filled with people of ethics, who understand history, grounded with a knowledge and appreciation of philosophical and cultural diversity and, as Cardinal John Henry Newman said, “prepared to fill any post with credit and to master any subject with facility.”

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

In its founding documents, the American Association of University Professors states that a university must be a place where the free expression of diverse ideas is the first and most sacred principle, even when those viewpoints are perceived as challenging, unwelcome or even offensive.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities avers we need to learn and to teach our students to think critically to understand “the inappropriateness and dangers of indoctrination ... to see through the distortions of propaganda and ... and to assess judiciously the persuasiveness of powerful emotional appeals.”**

We are all bombarded with propaganda and powerful emotional appeals every day. That is particularly true on college campuses today. In fact, we’re told our country and our world is a broken place in so many ways and it’s up to us to fix it.

As a society, we find ourselves data rich and information poor. Data alone tells us nothing of the significance or meaning of this data and what we encounter. It must be interpreted.

There is no shortage of ideas, good ones and bad ones, that emanate from all points of the philosophical or ideological compass. It is research, scholarship, artistic expression, and the free exchange of ideas that allow us as to get as close as humans can to the truth.

So, remember that you will always be bombarded with this litany of negativity and division. But perhaps instead of thinking the sky is falling we should actually see this as stardust?

Maybe we should dare to think about these, and all issues, unfettered from negativity, cynicism, preconceived ideas, labels, and categorizations. Perhaps we should see things in a spirit of joy and wonder. And I would add that we should approach all we encounter unfettered by resentment, anger and “political correctness.” If you do this you might just change the world. Victor Hugo wrote, “No army is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

The role of scholarship, creativity, artistic expression in academic research, in teasing out what is inappropriate and dangerous propaganda, and what is truth is absolutely essential. A rabbi once said: “To study is to pray.” That kind of work, that kind of scholarship, that kind of artistic expression, that kind of staying current, is what teaches us that there are better and worse ways to live a life.  

The combination of the virtues of the liberal arts and the virtuosity of professional competencies. This is what makes the Drury classroom experience so unique.

And it is what we celebrate today.

In closing I would like to offer students a few bits of advice and adages that sum up some of the wisdom of the ages, so listen carefully:

  1. Get out of bed and go to class.

  2. Do the assignments.

  3. Never draw to an inside straight.

  4. Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

  5. Use dental floss everyday.

  6. Be wary of new found friends.

  7. Make sure your friends are people you can shoot craps with over the phone.

  8. Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.

  9. The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong but that is actually the way to bet!

  10. There is nothing we receive with so much reluctance as advice.

  11. Reputation is what others think of you, character is what you are.

  12. They know enough who know how to learn.

  13. There is not much education in the second kick of a mule.

  14. Not many souls are saved in the second half hour of a sermon.

Congratulations to our exemplars.

I would like to acknowledge and to thank the following people for their contributions to these remarks:

  • *Dr. Rockwell Jones, President of Ohio Wesleyan University
  • **Mr. R. Madison Murphy, Murphy Oil and Murphy USA
  • Mr. Michael Brothers, Drury University