President Chabotar’s Charge to the Class of 2006
Good morning and congratulations.
My role today is to issue a charge to the Class of 2006. At first, I was tempted to summon forth the wisdom of such noted philosophers as Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and Malino in my remarks. However, I finally decided, “Not going to do that; wouldn’t be prudent.”
In my indecision, I was reminded of another famous sage, Woody Allen who gave one of the best commencement charges of all time. His advice to the graduating class consisted of: “We have given you a perfect world. Don’t screw it up.”
The Class of 2006 and I have a special bond. Many of us, including adult and traditional students, arrived at Guilford College four years ago at about the same time. For some traditional students, I even helped carry your luggage as you moved into your first-year residence halls. But my doctor shudders to think that might have happened if one more of you or your parents had asked me to haul your fridge to the top floors of Milner or Binford.
Life is unfair. You get to leave. I have to stay, unless the trustees in attendance today surprise me after the ceremony. We have shared an awesome adventure Let’s reminisce:
Remember that first winter in 2002-03 when we had not one but two ice storms? No power. No heat. What’s with that? The presidential search committee had promised that this was the sunny South! Even Caribou, Maine, was looking sweet at that point. That year also saw the opening of the Iraq War. That event demonstrated the need, yet again, as many of your parents remember from our Vietnam days, to “give peace a chance.”
The following year in 2003-04, this community engaged in a participatory process to reaffirm the college’s core values. 2003-04 was also the year that one of our students, Nathaniel Heatwole, made national news. He proved it was possible to take box cutters and other materials past the airport screeners and on to Southwest Airlines flights. Few are aware that Nat agreed, as part of the settlement of his court case, to help make a training video for the federal government on how he pulled it off. Talk about principled problem solving.
Then, in 2004-05, we began implementing The Strategic Plan for Guilford College 2005-2010. That same year we were featured on ESPN TV and other national news outlets when Jordan Snipes made an incredible, 87-foot, game-winning basketball shot just before the final buzzer. It quickly became the “shot seen ’round the world.” Soon after, I asked Jordan if he would speak to my Rotary Club. And in a very polite way we said, “Mr. President, would you rather I speak to your Rotary or go to class?” He went to class.
That brings us to 2005-06, when our new student apartments and community center opened in August. We also hosted internationally known speakers in the Bryan Series during our Year of Spirit and Spirituality. Think of the world-class people you’ve met in four years thanks to Trustee and Board Chair Joe Bryan Jr. Mikhail Gorbachev, Sidney Poitier, Cokie Roberts, Karen Armstrong, Edward Albee, Desmond Tutu, Bill Moyers, Ken Burns, and so many others.
During this year, we also witnessed the college’s amazing response to the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. CBS News told the story of a woman trapped in a nursing home. Every day she called her son and said, “‘Are you coming. Son? Is somebody coming?’ He replied, ‘Yeah. Mama. Somebody’s coming to get you… ‘Somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday. ‘Somebody’s coming to get you on Thursday. ‘Somebody’s coming to get you on Friday.’ “And she drowned Friday night.’ Someone interviewed in that same story cried out: Nobody’s coming to get us. The Secretary has promised. Everybody’s promised. They’ve had press conferences. I’m sick of the press conferences. For God’s sakes, just shut up and send us somebody.”
Guilford College sent somebody. We donated not just money but also time and toil helping others re-build. We admitted students suddenly without colleges. We prayed for the living and the dead. We proved once again that Guilfordians care and that we do make a difference. And, don’t you ever forget it.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.” In your years here, as faculty we have done our best to help you sharpen your axes. But on the highway of life and learning, graduation is a milestone and not an exit ramp. I charge you never to stop learning new things, doing new things, and thinking new things. The challenges of the 21st Century demand leaders who are not only motivated but well prepared, who can think creatively and critically, and who believe in the life of the spirit as well as the mind.
I charge you to be true to your best self — that goodness that lies within you. Ralph Waldo Emerson has said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
As you prepare to leave Guilford College, remember why you came. I charge you — adult and traditional students alike — to take along our magnificent core values — commitments to community, diversity, equality, excellence, integrity, justice and stewardship. They are timeless values. They are also indispensable.
Finally, in the words of Mark Twain,
“Always work like you don’t need the money.
Always fall in love like you’ve never been hurt.
Dance like nobody’s watching.
Sing like nobody’s listening;
Live like it’s heaven on earth.”
Godspeed and good luck! Come back anytime. We’ll leave the light on.
May 6, 2006