President Chabotar’s Charge to the Class of 2005
Over the years, I have found that there are many joys associated with a career in higher education. As a college president, I have been honored to labor with trustees, staff and students to meet a cornucopia of challenges and opportunities. I’ve been delighted to meet and talk with well-known people like Cokie Roberts, Sidney Poitier, Edward Albee and Mikhail Gorbachev. And, thankfully, the academic dean still unleashes me once a year to teach remarkable students in my political science class. In any language, and whether expressed in prose or poetry, there is no higher accolade than to be called teacher, magister, sensei, or lehrer.
But surely one of the purest joys each year is participating in our May Commencement, and experiencing the splendid happiness of this occasion. For the graduates, one phase of their lives ends and another begins as they go forth into the world or return to it.
It is also true that no commencement would be complete without the commencement speech. Garry Trudeau, known to some as the junkyard dog of editorial cartooning, has his own view of what often become soporific sermons. He once said, “Commencement speeches were invented largely in the belief that outgoing college students should never be released in the world until they have been properly sedated.”
Humorist Robert Orben took a paradoxical view of college commencements. He said, “A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells hundreds of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that ‘individuality’ is the real key to success.” Go figure.
What is true is that it can be a little daunting to leave college and head off into the future. But remember that commencement can be hard on your family and friends as well, especially for traditional students. The late humorist Erma Bombeck put it best. “Graduation day is tough for adults,” she said. “They go the ceremony as parents. They come home as contemporaries. And after 22 years of child rearing, they are unemployed.”
I am pleased that I have gotten to know scores of today’s graduates. Actually, we have much in common. While you have been striving mightily to earn your degree, many of us have been working to craft The Strategic Plan for Guilford College 2005-2010. Just as you have finished your studies, so we have finished our plan. It was approved by our Board of Trustees last October and we are now implementing it.
Guilford’s Strategic Plan has five continuing goals and operational priorities. In my charge to you today, I want to discuss how they might affect you in the years ahead if you let them. Someone once said, “Cause, you know, it ain’t whatcha got, it’s how you work it.” Imagine that you’re picking up five life lessons around campus before you leave whether by air or rail or in an over-packed car cruising down I-40 or West Friendly Avenue.
The first lesson can be found in Archdale, Duke, Hege-Cox, Frank Family Science Center and elsewhere. It relates to our first continuing goal to “Excel at education that transforms our students and our world.” Under that goal, we will emphasize principled problem solving as a distinctive, central theme in our academic programs. We will create “The Guilford Challenge” — requiring entering students to augment academic work with co-curricular requirements that develop problem-solving skills.
How can this goal apply to you? With most of the world ill-clothed, ill-housed, and ill-fed, there’s plenty of problem solving work to go around. We live in one of the greatest nations on earth but challenges abound at home from education and health care to employment and the environment in which you can make a difference. And just don’t strive to solve problems. Any business school can teach you to do that. It’s the principled part of principled problem solving that makes Guilford’s approach exceptional. It requires a code of conduct reflected in the College’s core values of excellence, equality, integrity and justice. It requires never thinking that ethics are a burden that will slow your climb to the top. As Nelson Mandela argued, “The time is always right to do right.”
Now proceed to New Garden and Hendricks Halls to pick up your second lesson. It is inspired by the second continuing goal in our Strategic Plan to “Expand our Academic Community.” Toward this end, we intend to build alliances with other institutions and to increase the college’s headcount enrollment by 30% to 3,300 students by the year 2010. We will give more students the opportunity for a Guilford education. If you ever operate your own business or nonprofit, you will be challenged to grow it to its most efficient size–in order gain economies of scale and leverage investments in facilities, personnel and other areas. You will need partners and allies to become stronger and sustain greatness. The poet John Donne once wrote that “no man is an island.” The same is true for women and for the organizations and peoples that you may serve.
This goal also applies to your life after graduation in terms of adopting a Lifetime of Learning approach from 16 to 60 and way beyond. You must look on your own education as an unremitting quest and not a one-time pit stop. A Chinese proverb says, “If you are planning for a year, sow rice. If you are planning for 10 years, plant trees. If you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.” Since we now live in a global, knowledge-based economy, continuous learning is a necessity and not an option, and a key not just to prosperity but also to survival.
Our third goal in the plan is to “Strengthen the Quaker presence and enhance campus diversity.” You can find life lessons about this in many places including the Moon Room and the Hut. This goal recommits Guilford to being a college that operates with integrity by drawing upon the wisdom of our Quaker heritage in our organizational practices and spiritual life. We seek to become a national model for using the Quaker-based consensual governance model in decision making. Under this goal, Guilford also recommits to being institutionally diverse and anti-racist.
How will you support the Quaker ideal to develop your spiritual strength as well as intellectual and practical skills? Do you commit yourself to helping improve race relations in our society by the way you conduct your own life? Will you work to fulfill Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision? Will you have his bravery and faith as he declared on the night before he died?
“The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — ‘We want to be free.’ ….Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
The college’s Strategic Plan also includes two operational priorities. Under the first one, stewardship and accountability, the Guilford is dedicated to the following:
- Sustaining a balanced budget;
- Studying the feasibility of a $75 million capital campaign;
- Growing our endowment to $75 million;
- Hiring additional faculty and staff to optimize our students’ educational experiences; and
- Completing new construction and renovation projects totaling $27 million.
Make no mistake; education is still our central purpose and core business. But we must maintain financial strength too if we are to extend the promise of Guilford College into the next century. We must maintain financial strength so that this college remains as affordable to a lobsterman in Maine or a farmer in Virginia as it does to a working class adult in North Carolina.
Stewardship should be a hallmark of your life. Pay your bills. Save for retirement and rainy days. Support your family. Make no financial commitments you cannot keep. Start no new programs or build any new buildings you cannot afford. It takes courage to work hard when others relax. It takes courage to spend no more than you earn. Ronald Reagan claimed in his first inaugural address that:
“Those who say that we’re in a time when there are no heroes — they just don’t know where to look. You can see heroes every day going in and out of factory gates. Others, a handful in number, produce enough food to feed all of us and then the world beyond. You meet heroes across a counter — and they’re on both sides of that counter. There are entrepreneurs with faith in themselves and faith in an idea who create new jobs, new wealth and opportunity.”
Stewardship is also about giving back and passing it on. For example, when Guilford’s Our Time in History campaign ended in 2002, its gifts and pledges totaled $56.4 million. Many of you would not be graduating today if not for the scholarships that you received from those gifts. You can’t possibly repay those donors who helped you — but you can pay it forward and help future students.
Will you make a habit of generosity — sharing your resources with those less fortunate than yourselves? Will you support your alma mater so that other students can have the same opportunity for an education that you had? President Reagan also observed that: “There are individuals and families whose taxes support the government and whose voluntary gifts support church, charity, culture, art and education. Their patriotism is quiet but deep. Their values sustain our national life.”
The fifth and final set of lessons can be observed every day on the Founder’s and Macon terraces, in the caf and Greenleaf student co-op, in the new community center opening next fall and wherever we pause from a frantic pursuit of life to just stop and chat. The link to the Strategic Plan is obvious in the operational priority “To improve our campus community.” While not as visible as construction projects, community is crucial because it involves our interactions with each other. It envisions a campus climate where everyone feels fairly treated and fairly compensated. This sense of community can extend to our city, state, nation, and the world. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a speaker in next year’s Bryan Series, once asserted a global view of community and declared that God expects much from those of us to whom much has been given:
“I have given you these resources so that you can be my hands and my feet, so that you can feed your sisters and brothers over there. You can’t be arguing about this; this is not for your sake. It is for your sisters and brothers ….. It is that we are family and all belong, all belong – rich, poor, black, white, red, green, educated, not educated, gay, lesbian, straight, all, all belong. All belong, and God says this is my dream, this is my dream.”
Embracing and enhancing community here at Guilford College will make us, as that other president’s father once said, a “kinder and gentler” place. It will improve student, faculty, and staff satisfaction. Community seeks a balance among competing priorities for academic excellence, athletic prowess, co-curricular leadership, and some semblance of a personal and social life. Author Doris Kearns Goodwin has said that a “central wisdom” she learned in college was “that the richest and fullest lives attain an inner balance of work, love and play,” I put it less elegantly in my inaugural address when I pitched that “no one ever died wishing they had spent more time at the office.”
So that’s it. Five goals and priorities and five sets of life lessons. Not a bad morning’s work. In closing, I can think of no better words than those offered by the late Theodor S. Giesel, known to millions of us as Dr. Seuss. He once said:
“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
And you know what you know.
You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”
Congratulations to you all on this festive occasion. It’s been awesome to have you with us here at Guilford. I wish you health, happiness, and good fortune. And I ask you to remember always that wherever you go and whatever you do in life God’s work must also be your own.
May 7, 2005