President Eastman's Remarks
Return to Program and Remarks
Dr. Donald R. Eastman III
August 12, 2005
Ladies and gentlemen, members of the class of 2009, welcome to the Eckerd College community. Welcome also to your parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, friends and other guests. Welcome to this ceremony that marks your rite of passage into membership in this unique community.
You already know Eckerd is unique - because you are here. You had lots of options - and you chose this special place. You didn't choose Eckerd because it was easy, or - for most of you - easy to get to, or because half your high school class was already coming here, or because of our football team. You chose to come to Eckerd College from some thirty countries and forty-plus states because you figured out, one way or another, by web, or word of mouth, or campus visit, or intuition, that the Eckerd experience is one of the most compelling educational opportunities in the world today.
That experience is residential. We consider living and learning together to be an essential part of the educational experience here, and more than 80% of Eckerd students live on campus;
That experience is global. Eight percent of your classmates are from other countries, and Eckerd leads the nation in the percentage of students who study abroad. The international dimension and perspective are vital to our academic programs.
That experience is spiritual - in the sense that we believe that the life of the mind and the body and the spirit all benefit from higher education. Our job is not to provide or confirm the easy answers, the pat formulas you learned in Sunday school at age nine, any more than it is to review what you learned in third grade arithmetic. A mature, educated spiritual life is much more complex than that. Our job is to ask the right questions, to begin the right arguments, about what is true, what is valuable, what is to be done in order to lead a meaningful life - and your job is to learn how to develop and test and confirm your own answers.
That experience is environmental. Many in the Eckerd community believe that the most pressing social, economic, political, and moral issues of this new century have to do with the environment, and our particular location here on the tip of the Pinellas peninsula on the very shore of a principal bay of the Gulf of Mexico especially enriches our focus on the marine and estuarial ecology of the global environment.
And your experience here will be personal. The personal relationship between teachers and students is the signature of Eckerd College, and most of you will come to treasure it increasingly every day of your lives. Residential, global, spiritual, environmental, personal: These are the key notes of the Eckerd experience.
When each of you light your candle in a few minutes, you are symbolically lighting your way into a new way of living. You are beginning a journey to become an educated man or woman - thoughtful, informed, mature, and responsible. As you embark on this journey, most of you will begin to find a whole new world of freedom and independence as college students, and you will be asked by your college to display a whole new level of personal responsibility. If you have the resolve, the commitment to excellence, and the ambition to grow into the full experience of the life of the mind and of the spirit, you will leave here not simply with a diploma of which you will always be proud, but changed: Not changed because you are a stronger Presbyterian, or Baptist or Catholic or Jew or Buddhist or Muslim, though that well may happen; not changed because you have so richly reveled in life and love in this magical world by the sea - though that is very likely to happen, too. Changed because from the experience of these collegiate values - residential, global, spiritual, environmental, and personal - you will develop a new degree not only of education, but of character, proven by your seriousness of purpose, by not only your tolerance but also by your high regard for other people and other cultures, and by your commitment to service in the affairs of the world.
In a very real sense, while you have put yourself in our hands for the next four years, we are much more in your hands than you are in ours. We will work to be worthy of your trust; we will try to clarify your questions and respond honestly to them. We will share with you what we have learned about things that endure and things that pass away.
We have chosen you to inherit our estate and determine our future. As students and then as alumni, you are both the raison d'etre and the future of Eckerd College. Without your success as men and women of learning and high principle, we can have none.
A few years back, Stanford Professor John Gardner wrote:
"Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties ... out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in ... The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life."
There is much wisdom in Professor Gardner's words. College is the time when most of us build meaning into our lives in indelible ways. You will have much work to do in the coming four years, and much to read, and I encourage you to study, early on, the canonic texts of western culture: the epics of Homer and the King James version of the Old and New Testament, for they together form the moral and intellectual substructure of western civilization, and the unequalled quality of personal and institutional freedom and accomplishment achieved by it. I emphasize together because, while separately they are canonic texts, only taken together could they have framed the high achievement of the West. Our culture is built, for better and for worse, on the examples of Achilles and Jesus; on Helen and Mary; on Odysseus and Abraham.
You will have at Eckerd College an extraordinary opportunity to learn and to practice the values and the skills necessary for living a meaningful life in the 21st Century. The year-long freshman course, Western Heritage in a Global Context, will initiate you into the canonic texts and ultimate questions of life, and the senior capstone service-learning course, Quest for Meaning, will challenge you to seek answers to questions of meaning and purpose in your own life. In the meantime, an Eckerd education will prepare you for the jobs or graduate schools you will go on to from here.
As you light your candle tonight, consider that you have come here at great effort and expense: your own, your parents, and in the case of the many of you who have received scholarships, at great sacrifice and expense of alumni and others who believe in the transformational character of an Eckerd College education. As you light your candle tonight, consider that you have two purposes here: First, you have the gift of time in this special place to learn how to read, and write, and think with precision and subtlety so that you can earn and enjoy your daily bread. Secondly, you have the opportunity and the obligation to improve the world in which we live - a world, you may well have noticed, that is in desperate need of improving.
A few minutes ago you stood and sang, "America the Beautiful." You sang, even though you know it is only a dream, of an America in which "alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears." You know that is not the America, or the world, in which you live. You need to know that part of your calling here is to become the kind of man or woman who can help America achieve the dream of which we sang.
The hymn you will sing in just a moment asks each of us to consider, as if we were God, whom we would send to care for those in pain, those who are hungry and sick, those who are in despair. The hymn asks who will work on behalf of others as well as for themselves; who will do God's work in this world? And the hymn compels us to answer, as an Eckerd College education will compel you to answer: "Here I am. I will do this work. I have heard this call, and I will answer it. Here I am."
Recognize, as you light your candle, that you are now an adult. The responsibility for your successes and your failures now lies with you. While we will do everything we can to support you and your ambitions over the next four years, the fact is that your intellectual and personal development and academic success depend less on us than on you. There is a banquet here, a feast - but you must demonstrate the discipline and the determination to enjoy it, to make it your own, and to prepare yourselves to lead lives of high achievement and noble purpose.
Four years from now, you may recall Dr. Johnson's famous line from James Boswell's Tour of the Hebrides: "Every season of life has its proper duties." As freshmen, you now begin a new season of your lives. You enter the educated world, to take up your "proper duties" - and you do so not simply to learn, but to construct a meaningful life, to prepare yourselves for the service your talents make possible - for the service and leadership your country and your world so badly need.
That new season, and the challenges it brings, begins tonight.
Welcome to Eckerd College.