Grace Gair's Remarks
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August 10, 2007
Good afternoon distinguished members of the Eckerd Community and welcome class of 2011. My name is Grace Gair and as president of Eckerd College's Organization of Students, it is my great pleasure to welcome you as the newest members of the Eckerd College family.
I never thought I would say this, but, "I remember when I was a freshman, and I can't believe how fast the time has gone." Any upperclassmen, who has even the slightest opportunity to say this to you, probably will. In fact, in these next four years I think you will most likely hear about "time" more often than you have ever imagined. As your parents leave you today, they will probably say, "This will be one of the greatest times in your life, so enjoy every minute of it." In a couple of months, when all of your papers are due and the first semester is winding down, your professors will most likely tell you that "time is running out" and next year you will undoubtedly say, "Hey do you remember that time during Autumn Term?"
Certainly for an institution like Eckerd, time has passed quickly too. While you are here, you will have the opportunity to be a part of Eckerd's 50th Anniversary celebration. Looking back to 1958, the year Eckerd was founded, the world was facing a different set of challenges than it is today. The United States, especially throughout the South, was embroiled in a struggle to abolish racially motivated laws and customs that divided Americans at their core. Although it was a difficult and sometimes dangerous task, a few undaunted individuals were determined to change the fight. Eckerd College, then known as Florida Presbyterian College, became a part of history when students and faculty members joined in Civil Rights marches and protests, like the one in Selma, Alabama. As a result, Eckerd became one of the first institutions of higher education in Florida to integrate.
Martin Luther King, Jr., not only a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement but also a Nobel Peace prizewinner was famous not only for his courageous leadership, but also for his words of wisdom that cut across cultural, religious, and racial lines. When he was only 18, Dr. King wrote to his school newspaper, "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education."
If there is one thing to be said about Eckerd and the kind of education that exists here it would be the idea that learning is not restricted to the classroom. Just as the early students and faculty led the school to become a part of a movement toward greater social justice, so too does that spirit exist today. Students and faculty regularly engage in programs around the campus and around the world that take them out of the classroom and into areas where their talent and determination are desperately needed. Just a few examples include: working with the homeless of Saint Petersburg, traveling to South America during Spring break to teach English, running recycling programs, volunteering at the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture, and organizing donations at Beth-El mission for farm worker families in Bradenton, Florida.
Each person has their own story. During my time at Eckerd, I have traveled to Geneva, Switzerland and listened to a delegation from Sudan defend itself at the Committee on the Rights of the Child; I spent last Winter Term getting to know Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and amazing author and Nobel Peace Prize Winner; I spent my Autumn Term kayaking through the backwater of Tampa Bay learning about Florida's delicate ecosystem, and in a few weeks, I will throw the opening pitch at a Major League baseball game. I could go on and on and so could so many others. The important part is that these are just a few examples of the incredible things that happen at a small liberal arts college on the beach.
Undoubtedly the people, the experiences, and the passion that are embodied here on campus are just as much a part of what Dr. King would call "true education" as any lecture that has ever been given. I wish you all the best of luck in all that you will do and discover during your time at Eckerd. As the great storyteller Mark Twain put it most eloquently, "throw out the bowline, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails, explore, dream, discover."
Thank you and again, welcome to Eckerd College.