It is truly a joy to see all of you our new students here today!
I would also like to thank and recognize our esteemed faculty! And members of the staff and the Drury community thank you for all you do to make the Drury family special!
Welcome new students. Today begins a new chapter in your lives!! To kick off this new chapter I have a story for you!
He was born in a village in Southern Germany called Ulm. The year was 1879. Six years after Drury College was founded here in Springfield in 1873.
It was not the best place to be born into a Jewish family. His family knew the pain of being different and excluded in a small town. Many of you know that nothing is worse than being different in a small town.
So his father moved the young boy and his family to Munich.
Munich was not much better for Jews, but at least the little boy and his family were surrounded by an extended family and close friends.
The boy was slight and a loner. He would carry these characteristics with him throughout his life.
He loved to work on puzzles, to invent thought experiments like imagining all of the details of make believe cities with his sister, or to play with his toy steam engine.
In 1882, Munich hosted the first German electricity exhibition.
In 1883, the young boy’s family and some of their close friends began to compete for contracts to provide electrical lights and generators to cities all over Southern Germany.
He traveled with his extended family and their friends. Many of them became mentors to him.
The boy in fact sought out special mentors on these trips.
Mostly, they were his uncles and older family friends. With their attention and encouragement, the boy began to gain a new found self-confidence
He also began to realize that he and his family of engineers and entrepreneurs could go toe to toe in competing for contracts with some of the largest most sophisticated firms in Germany.
His family was inventive creating various kinds of machines and mechanical devices. The boy learned to be inventive himself.
He always knew he was different, not just because he was a Jew,
But because he knew that he thought differently from other school mates –
For example, he expressed his ideas not so much through language, but through descriptive pictures, images, and hypothetical models. Some thought him odd.
He became fascinated with geometry. In particular, with the elegance and balance of tri-angles. He would spend hours imagining all sorts of geometrical shapes.
The tri-angle became an important symbol of balance in his own life and thought.
His family encouraged him not to conform to the world, but to embrace his original way of thinking and expressing ideas. His mentors taught him not to accept the status quo and to never blindly accept any authority.
One day the boy’s father gave him a Compass.
It was a beautiful and transforming gift for the young boy.
He kept his compass in a special box with his other prized possessions.
Playing with his compass sparked a deep intellectual curiosity.
The young boy knew that there was some non-mechanical hidden force behind the movement of the magnetic needle in the compass.
Tried as he might, he could not fully figure the compass out. But he never stopped trying.
According to one author the young boy actually “trembled because he began to realize that there must be an invisible order behind the chaos of the universe.” He realized that even in his own chaotic life there were hidden forces that if discovered could guide him and bring order.
One of his key mentors was a doctor and professor named Max Talmud.
The boy’s family had Dr. Talmud over each week for diner for many years.
The professor began giving the boy books to read.
Talmud first gave the boy a twenty-one volume set of books by Aaron Bernstein called “The People’s Books On Natural Science.”
Each volume was full of details and diagrams, of contemporary scientific experiments that were being conducted in Germany and around the world.
Bernstein described the experiments and their potential implications through his illustrations.
All of the books became dog eared as the boy read and re-read each of the volumes.
Professor Talmud then began giving him works on mathematics and philosophy – Euclid, Descartes, Newton, Kant, Schopenhauer, Hegel, and David Hume.
Talmud gave him works of literature, history and the history of science.
The professor also gave the young boy papers on technical based arts and applications of new technologies.
The young boy devoured the works at a prodigious pace.
Each week Talmud would discuss with the boy what he had read.
Talmud encouraged the boy to express his ideas about what he had read if not through language and robust discussion then through descriptive images and illustrations.
The professor expressed an interest in the boy’s ideas and perhaps more importantly in how he thought and how he reached conclusions.
Talmud did not lecture the boy, but asked questions and listened.
He often responded to the boy’s questions not with answers, but with even more questions.
One of the subjects that the boy returned to over and over again with Talmud was the explanation of all electromagnetic phenomenon such as light.
The speed of light and the fact that each kind of light had exactly the same speed fascinated the young boy.
By the time he was in his early teens the boy was far ahead of others his age in his knowledge and his thinking.
Despite all of this knowledge and intellectual curiosity, he was dismissed from school at age 16 for failing almost every course and for not paying attention and day dreaming.
He tried to get into a different school, but he failed the entrance examines – twice – in every area except math and science.
It was not that the boy could not learn or was not a good student.
But he resisted the old Germanic style of teaching through which he knew could not learn.
The Germanic style of teaching was, one might say, the lowest of the low impact styles of teaching –
Can you imagine trying to learn by sitting in classes with several hundred other students, having to do rote-drills, being required to just do memorization, sitting through didactic lectures and fed facts with no opportunity for discussion or questions?
Students were also expected to worship the authority of the lecturer. This the boy could not bear.
The boy craved what today we might call high impact teaching styles and learning techniques.
High impact teaching and learning means lively discussions, small classes in seminar style, questions rather than just answers, learning by doing, by investigation and research, by writing, by being allowed to learn by articulating ideas and expressing interpretations in your own way, through images, diagrams, and hypothetical thought experiments and most importantly through through problem solving.
His formative mentors had taught him individually and treated him with dignity. He excelled when he saw his teachers as fellow researchers who gave him problems to solve – even if they themselves may have already known the solutions.
After he was dismissed from school, just like some kids today, he moved back in with his parents. Perhaps he lived in their basement.
But the teen was not idle during this time. He went to work – a prolonged internship in his family’s electrical and mechanical firm.
There he worked and learned through hands on experiences. He used magnets and coils and figured out how to generate electricity, to improvise, to improve on various designs, and to invent new systems and machines.
Often he drew on his intellectual passion – mathematics – to further develop his skills and competencies while fixing and improving generators to deliver electricity.
You might say he connected his academic passion, his life’s academic passion with his cultivation of technical and professional competencies and skills.
Finally, two years later he was accepted into Zurich Polytechnic.
He earned what today would be a doctorate in physics.
But he graduated last in his class. He was disliked by his fellow students and not well regarded by the faculty.
His failures in life, rejections, and experiences with alienation were due in no small part due to his own arrogance.
For his entire life he had a contempt for authority in any form and he was not shy about expressing his contempt.
This often did not serve him well in life.
You know that there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom.
This young man had enormous self-confidence, acquired a great deal of knowledge, and became one greatest geniuses in human history.
But he did not learn humility and perhaps some would say he never become wise.
Drury students, you will find that your mentors, on this faculty here today, will help you to gain knowledge, but they will also teach and model for you something more important – wisdom.
Wisdom of course begins with self-knowledge.
Now I should warn you that I have found that for me personally the “trouble with self-knowledge is that it’s so often bad news.”
But the reality of our inter worlds – no matter how harsh – must be faced.
We must learn that our motives are never truly pure, but always mixed. And that in fact we tend to judge others’ motives in the harshest ways.
Our own insecurities, fears, biases, ambitions, and competitiveness – color our approach to others and the world.
Drury students, your faculty and staff mentors will challenge you to know yourselves.
They will teach you that rigid inflexible adherence to a Truth or an ideology or self-righteous indignation will lead you away from wisdom and into a rush to judgement, a suspicion of others, and quick condemnations of fellow human beings.
You will learn here or later in life – that we all live life and make decisions in the context of ambiguity, contradiction, uncertainty, error and much too often in the context of personal tragedy.
Here at Drury we recognize our common humanness. That is why the culture of the Drury Family is one of care and support for each other. Our culture affirms kindness, trust, mercy, and empathy. And our culture is positive, energetic, and collaborative.
We celebrate wonder, joy, and hope. We welcome change and call each other into accountability to live out our values.
You will see, Drury students, that these qualities and behaviors – the spirit of the Drury family – are not just directed at you or for you, but we hold them as guides to our own behavior toward each other – toward every member of our community.
Back to our story ….
The only job the young man in our story could land was working in a patent office in Bern Switzerland.
During this period of time he reviewed all sorts of inventions and patent applications.
His name was Albert Einstein!!
The first papers he wrote in theoretical physics were rejected and scoffed at by the established academy.
But in 1905, he published a series of papers that became the most revolutionary works in the history of physics and science.
The first series of papers were called The Theory of Special Relativity!
At this point I know you are asking yourself – President Cloyd – when are you going to get into the full explanation of Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity.
I will spare you all the details because as you know his theories are rather simple and you probably know them already.
But if you want a full dose of the details then talk to me later or better yet take a physics class.
As a matter of fact, just take the physics class.
Einstein’s theory and his formula E=mc2 – energy equals mass times the speed of light squared ……
brought about a paradigm shift in physics that shattered established Newtonian physics.
But did you know, The Theory of Special Relativity contained an idea that I think is becoming a key theme for Drury?
Under the right conditions two light atoms will bond.
Counterintuitively, in that reaction the total mass of the new atom that is created is less than the two atoms that formed it.
This is called Fusion.
In Fusion, mass is released in enormous energy.
Fusion is a notion that is used in a number of fields of study from Jazz to hip-hop, to art, to social science, to history.
What does all of this have to do with Drury University. What does it have to do with this faculty or this community – or you! What does it have to do the experience you students will have here, what you may learn here, and how you will learn here?
Einstein’s story shines light on things we value and that have enduring value at Drury.
This story also contains themes about how we are going to make those enduring values real in new ways for you.
We at Drury are going to offer you new and exciting opportunities.
Student’s you are here at an exciting time. You are going to hear more and more this year about the new opportunities, the new programs, and the new credentials we are going to offer you in your years here at Drury.
For generations we know that our faculty have served Drury students – as great teachers, scholars, trusted advisors and mentors.
We know that our fine faculty are here to serve as your mentors and guides – just as Einstein’s mentors did for him in his intellectual development.
You will find your voice here at Drury and you will be affirmed in a new self-confidence.
You will be taught by this outstanding faculty not accept the status quo or to blindly agree with authority. You will learn to think in new ways with parts and sides of your brain you never thought were there – through numbers, images, sounds, music, logic, languages, stories, and digital formulations.
In the tradition of the liberal arts and sciences, just as Einstein did, you will read and study widely and deeply in many subject areas.
You will learn from your mentors and from knowing yourself – how to fail and fall and how to get up – how to have resilience,
Failing and falling will produce humility and empathy for others if you let them.
But students I want to tell you about a few of the new opportunities you are going to have here at Drury. These are great opportunities!!!
Through this brand new program called Your Drury Fusion –
Your Drury Fusion – I like that name!!
Through Your Drury Fusion – You will fuse your intellectual passion in preparation for life with technical and professional competencies in areas connected to your career interest. This will be Your Drury Fusion!
Your Drury Fusion experience will create enormous energy for you and in your life.
Drury is going to GO Beyond any other University in how we recognize Your Drury Fusion accomplishments: Your Preparation for Life and Preparation for Profession.
Along with your major areas of study, certificates that you earn will all be placed on your transcript and you will be able to create your own digital portfolio of your work and the real world problems you have addressed.
This will make you market ready and life ready.
And Finally students hear this –
Einstein once said that he knew he had done his job as a teacher when the chickens came home to roost.
He said to his class at Princeton “a foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth.”
To which one of his student collaborators replied oh yes, Dr. Einstein, I know – I never rely on authority in science, in any other discipline or in a professor. Even the greatest genius can be wrong – whether he has won one or two Nobel prizes, or none at all.
Now students I would like for all of you to stand for a moment. Please stand!
Now students look around.
This great faculty before us has worked so hard for you before you arrived today and they will be your academic guides in this new chapter of your lives.
The wonderful staff and members of the Drury family who are here today have also worked hard for you in ways that you will never know. They too will be your wise mentors.
So will you now please join me in giving them a well desired standing ovation!!!
August 24, 2017
On Sunday, at the orientation worship service, I heard a wonderful story delivered by our own esteemed Dr. Peter Browning – who of course should not be confused with our own truly esteemed and brilliant Dr. Carol Browning!
But Peter relayed a story of seeing a young man in a tee shirt that read “For Such a Time as This!” And of course Peter knew immediately where that tee shirt wisdom came from. He told us about it with a wonderful lesson on Sunday and it inspired me.
It comes from the Book of Esther in the Bible and I think that phrase relates to a question we as a community should be asking of ourselves in this day and age. It is a question we as a faculty, as students, as staff, and as a community should in my view be asking.
You can take this story as an allegory, as a symbolic fiction about the perennial nature of the human condition, or literally, but I think the issue it raises is profound. So taking from Dr. Peter Browning, The Oxford Annotated Bible, other credible sources, and of course google – this is the version I understand.
And students, faculty, and staff, I hope that through my flawed telling of this story we might be able to listen to the transcendent voice inside of all of us and to hear.
The Jews had been taken into slavery by The King of Babylon who ruled an empire that stretched from India to Ethiopia. This King was a brutal man who believed that no other religion, no other viewpoint, no other idea that differed in any way from his own should be expressed or even thought by anyone in the King’s empire.
His main henchman was named Haman and Haman had vowed to destroy for the King, Judaism and kill all Jews, because they dissented from the King’s truth. The King allied with Haman because Haman was wealthy and paid huge sums to the King.
In Hebrew, Haman is often translated as meaning “Noise”, “the noise of the Mob”, or “the Agitator.” Haman was a delusional tyrant who said “truth is what I say it is.” He proclaimed the idea that truth and the law could simply be proclaimed by those in power, or those with enough power, or by the mob.
Later, of course these same ideas brought the Roman Republic to destruction, when the laws, customs, and traditions that governed the Republic were destroyed leaving citizens at the mercy of the Emperor and mob rule.
The death of Haman in the story of Esther is the origin of the Jewish holiday of Purim. Haman serves as a symbol of the death of theological and ideological dictatorship in favor of the belief that the good life should be characterized by a quest for truth – in its broadest sense and applications – no matter where it leads.
The defiance of thought police, the belief in open and civil discourse, and the commitment to challenge the power of the state, the powerful of mob rule became a hallmark quality of Jews (Esther 3:5, Daniel 3:12) and quite a bit later of Christians (ACTS 5:29, REVELATION 13:15). This openness as we know has become the standard that we have at least asserted and believed in — in the academy and in Western societies since the scientific revolution and this idea is enshrined… however imperfectly in the bill of rights of the constitution of our United States Republic.
On Purim, each time Haman’s name is spoken in the public reading of Esther the Jewish congregation drowns out the voice of the speaker with shouts and noise making toys. This symbolizes that Haman represents the noise of mob rule, of the arbitrary power, the whims the ruler or of the state.
Haman also represents the voice of relativism, the notion that there are no better or worse ways to live a life and that everything is merely a construction of power.
Haman is unreason if you will or the annihilation of free expression, of truth, and of civil discourse replaced by emotion, edict, or groundless passion.
Now back to Esther. She was the niece of Mordecai and Mordecai was an outspoken opponent of Haman and the King. He had been ordered to be executed. But the King favored Esther and promised to grant her any wish. Mordecai sent her a message to go to the king and stand against Haman and his ideas and plans to destroy the Jews.
At first Esther hesitated saying “no one just approaches the king and Haman (the Mob) unless he calls for you and doing so without invitation is a capital offense.” But Mordecai persisted and said “if you keep silent at such a time as this all Jews including your family will be destroyed” and then he said “And who knows whether, or not you have come to this kingdom for such a time as this?”
For such a time as this!
I submit to you this question: “who knows whether or not Drury or you or I or this community have come to this place in at this point in history – in our national and communal history for such a time as this?” You could ask – has Drury come to this place and time for such a time as this? You could ask that. Or We could proclaim. “We have come for such a time as this!”
“For such a time as this?”
To stand between the whims of the national security state, the edicts of those in power who claim there is no truth, and the rule of the mobs who shout people down and are assured of their own righteousness and truth. To stand between those who would espouse hate, racial or religious supremacy, white supremacists, and intolerance and those who would choose violence to destroy the other instead of entering into engaged thoughtful discourse and peaceful action and resistance.
For such a time as this!
We must affirm free speech and the importance of listening even when we do not agree with each other or find the another’s views reprehensible, and to believe that open discourse and peaceful action is the answer to creating a better, more diverse, and tolerant society.
We must protect a space here in this place that holds out the idea that there may be a multiplicity of modes of knowing a truth or the truth. In this academic community we must hold out the notion that we may be wrong – wrong about our conclusions or about the truth… And affirm the idea that it is possible that the whole truth may be something that cannot be fully or completely known by any one person or in our lifetimes.
We must defend this precious space against those who would destroy it through intolerance, hate, and bigotry. We must learn and teach humility.
Not that this will heal all that divides us, there is indeed evil in the world driven by racism, religious intolerance, and a thousand forms of petty hate. Or by real injuries and pain caused by others that has turned into resentment, hate, and a drive for revenge at any cost. There are those indeed who reject peaceful engagement and discourse and who are dedicated to killing and destruction.
But in defending a space for peaceful resistance and civil discourse we may hope to discover a place where what unites us will be greater than what divides us. This was the path of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
For such a time as this!
This is our history, the story of Drury University …… whose abolitionists founders hoped to find a place of peace and to create a space to heal the divide that was the civil war in Bloody Missouri.
1873 was not a great time to start a college. The country was divided and still at war with itself. Just 8 years earlier Bloody Bill Anderson and Bill Quantrill had led a band that terrorized and murdered Union Loyalists and African American civilians all over central and southern Missouri. They led the Centralia Massacre in Orrick Missouri killing hundreds of civilians.
Classes begin at Drury University on September 25, 1873. Then in October the New York stock market crashed triggering the Panic of 1873 which lead to a world-wide depression that lasted until 1879. In Iowa in 1873, Jesse James and the James-Younger gang pulled off the first successful train robbery in the United States killing many. The United States government took steps toward censorship and against free speech passing the Comstock Act, making it illegal to send anything deemed by the State as “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” through the mail. Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer began his attempt to annihilate the Sioux near a small river in Montana.
It was a bad time. A hard time. But Drury University was here then and is now.
For such a time as this!
Of course it was not all bad. It never really is …is it? .. I mean Levi Strauss received a patent in 1873 for using copper rivets to strengthen the pockets of denim work pants. Later to be called blue jeans! And The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was founded in Hillsboro, Ohio. But as I have discovered that movement to stop the consumption of alcohol really never made it to Springfield Missouri!
For such a time as this!
The intent of Drury and the Drury Spirit has always been about attempting to bridge divides – our faculty have always been the ones who have held this spirit high and defended the core of Drury. I want to thank this great faculty for this courageous tradition in this part of the world. You carry this core today!
This community and the Drury faculty have tried to bridge divides in our community, in our state, in our nation and yes even in the academy between disciplines, between students, and in our curriculum.
This is from the Articles of Association that formed this school penned by Dr. Morrison on March 26, 1873
“Our aim in establishing the said Drury college is to afford to youth of both sexes ample facilities for instruction and discipline in those arts and sciences, a knowledge of which constitutes what is commonly known as a “liberal education” by always maintaining in said college as comprehensive a course of study and as high a standard of instruction and scholarship as prevail in other American colleges of the first rank, and at the same time to train youth in the high morality of the Christian religion.”
I want to focus on two phases in this quote. A Liberal Education and A Comprehensive Course of Study.
A Liberal Education then, as now, does not refer to a political philosophy. e.g. Liberal. It pertains to freedom. It refers to an education deemed essential for a free people to know in order that they might have understanding, humility and to actively participate in civic life, contributing toward the advancement of the good for one’s life and for society.
Students. In truth it may not be your major that makes the biggest difference in your life. It is learning to solve problems, to think analytically and critically, to write and speak effectively, to solve puzzles, to work in teams, to see the world through someone else’s eyes – This is what this great faculty – your mentors will teach you no matter your major! Training and adapting will go on for the rest of your life, but it is learning how to learn that lasts a lifetime. That is liberal learning. Or if you would rather call it …. Education for a well lived life or An Education for the Whole Person, that is fine too.
So in this community we embrace education for a well lived life – for the whole person. And it is the staff overall, in student life, in enrollment, in CCPS, in academic affairs, in physical plant, in athletics, in the business office and in all areas and this great faculty who will shape your life in every encounter you have with them.
And yet we are also committed to a comprehensive course of study.
A Comprehensive Course of Study for the 21st Century. Today in an evolving and rapidly changing world we know that we must also guarantee that our students develop requisite technical skills and professional competencies. No matter your major or discipline I know you faculty members care about each student and our students know you will provide them know how and the mastery of skills whether, or not those are quantitative, technological, economic, scientific, or creative design solutions. Students are offered the opportunity to engage with real problems through a Drury education. We are now looking to find new and innovative ways to teach the combination of these two critical sides of a well-rounded education for all of our students to be able to signal to the world and the market the mastery of these technical skills and professional competencies and well as the qualities of an education for the whole person.
I have used the phrase Virtue and Virtuosity to describe these two interrelated and equally important sides of the equation of the Drury difference in learning in today’s world.
For such a time as this!
Finally, I want to ask your help with something. I am vexed and torn over an issue that is dividing our country, has led to violence, to murder, and a rise of racists hatred and conflict between us – that of course is the issue of confederate monuments, monuments to the founders of our Republic, names of parks, schools, roads, lakes, names on school and university buildings and even images on our US currency.
I do not want to see history erased as has happened in totalitarian societies. I do not want to stop reading Aristotle or Plato or hundreds of other historical writers and thinkers. But no one wants a monument to Adolf Hitler, or other genocidal tyrants.
I need the help of this thoughtful community in civil discourse to sort through this issue for myself and I sure I am not alone. And I hope we can take this discussion on.
Perhaps there is a way of listening to each other and finding a solution. A way of acknowledging human sin and frailty. A way of acknowledging the horrible things in our past and our own tragedy while celebrating the great things about our history and of historical human fallen figures without playing into the hands of those who would use such images and monuments to celebrate hate. Perhaps we can find forgiveness, let go of resentment, and to follow the words of Albert Camus and not divide our worlds into groups instead of looking at individual people. Perhaps as Camus said to divide the world into victims who are the pure and executioners who are the unredeemable and evil lead to endless violence.
I have had experiences with this issue long before it can into national consciousness. In the 1960’s while I was growing up on the Navajo Reservation the federal government put a monument up to Kit Carson near Shiprock, New Mexico – a Navajo holy place. I remember the anger and humiliation of the Navajo people over this after what Carson had done to them.
I was in Forest Park in Memphis when African Americans were expressing their anger and disgust over the statue of Nathan Bedford Forest. Forest owned the slave markets of Memphis before the Civil War and during the Civil War ordered the summary execution of all captured black soldiers and all of their officers.
Now I will have to confess that as president of Drury I have recently developed my own monument problem!!! Over at the Presidential Garden! I can tell you I do not fall into the category of the people of whom Jesus spoke when he said “blessed are the pure of heart!”
But my experience with this issue I have to say, being a Tennessean, is even more complicated. One side of my family fought for the Union and the other for the Confederacy. In addition, my great ancestor was Governor John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee. They called Sevier “Little John the Indian Killer.” And I have stood next to his statue in the Tennessee capital many times. I am not proud of what he did to Native Americans, but I am proud of the fact that he “pistol whipped” Andrew Jackson – twice.
In addition, I have been to see the statue of Col. Cyrus Sugg my great great grandfather at the Chickamauga Battlefield who lead the 50th Tennessee Confederate Infantry and was killed at Missionary Ridge. I am not proud of the fact that he owned slaves or what he fought for and died for there at Missionary Ridge. I have also been to Shiloh and Stone’s River where my family members’ names who died there fighting for the United States are on Union Monuments.
I do not know the right answer! But I do know you our smart students and you our wise faculty can help me sort through this issue.
For such a time as this!
But in the end I would like to remind us of what happens to all monuments – because as the Greeks say Hubris then Nemesis
Here are the words of Shelly
“I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
For such a time as this!
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:
“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:
Get out of bed and go to class.
Do the assignments.
Never draw to an inside straight.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
Use dental floss everyday.
Be wary of new found friends.
Make sure your friends are people you can shoot craps with over the phone.
Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.
The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong – but that is actually the way to bet!
There is nothing we receive with so much reluctance as advice.
Reputation is what others think of you, character is what you are.
They know enough who know how to learn.
There is not much education in the second kick of a mule.
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: