Convocation 2007
Convocation 2007

Welcome
Return to Program and Remarks

Donald R. Eastman IIIDonald R. Eastman III
President
September 5, 2007

And so we convene - to launch the new academic year, to commemorate the beginning of the college careers of the class of 2011, and to herald the coming celebrations of the College's 50th birthday.

It is my hope that the festivities of our half-century anniversary do not simply prompt us to reminisce for a sweeter, bygone era, nor merely to chuckle over black-and-white photographs of the early days of Florida Presbyterian College, when the men all had flat tops and wore narrow black ties and white, polyester, short-sleeve shirts with matching socks. I hope that these anniversary observances will help us clarify and refine our own mission, our own goals, and our own practices and values. History, after all, is not for the dead, but for the living.

It is striking that so many of the values and aspirations of the founders of Florida Presbyterian are vibrantly alive in the College today: the focus on educating the whole person; the deep regard for individuality and self expression; the emphasis on the close relationship between student and teacher; the commitment to explore other cultures through study abroad; and perhaps most important, the belief that Florida Presbyterian College was a glorious opportunity for a fresh start, the chance to remake liberal arts education. All of this survives today at Eckerd College.

Today we inaugurate a new ritual that will become a hallowed tradition at Eckerd, the giving of an award that looks back for inspiration to honor the accomplishments of the present and inspire those of the future. This award, named for a renowned Florida Presbyterian College Professor, John Satterfield, honors mentoring, one of the College's most distinctive hallmarks.

During his years at Florida Presbyterian, Professor Satterfield came to be known for his mentoring and teaching, and, most memorably, for a legendary Western Heritage lecture entitled "Myth and Symbol," in which he played the piano, used props including co-eds in bikinis and horses and monkeys on stage, and joked about his faculty colleagues. This entertaining lecture was so popular that students would come back to hear it year after year. Like all great teachers, Professor Satterfield made an indelible mark.

The Satterfield Award calls on us to honor a great mentor, to recommit ourselves to the essential challenge of mentoring, and to reexamine how we mentor in order to discover ways to do an even better job of it. As faculty and staff we may take this opportunity not only to glory in the example of John Satterfield and of today's honoree, but to ask ourselves: Are we mentoring the whole student? Are we supporting the student not only as scholar, but as resident, as athlete, as thespian, as musician, as campus citizen? Are we asking the big questions, the fundamental questions, in a way that recognizes that what happens outside class is part and parcel of the general education that the residential liberal arts college provides? Are we mentoring our students not only for academic success but also for civility and citizenship, in class and out?

The 50th Anniversary of this College, which we will celebrate in various ways over the next two years, if it is to be truly meaningful, must push us to reexamine ourselves and our College in light of the aspirations, successes and failures of the past. Our celebrations must not be limited to self-congratulations on our institutional survival - though the fact that we have survived the various crises many of you know all too well is indeed worthy of serious celebration. Rather, we must use our increasing understanding of the past fifty years - each so rich in success and so threatened by failure - to enrich the next fifty. All teachers know that learning from failure matters as much or more than exploiting success. "Fail again," says Samuel Becket; "Fail better." Or, as Trustee Helmar Nielsen told me in my first weeks at Eckerd, "Fail fast." Meaning, if we must misstep - and we must - recognize it quickly and recover as soon as possible.

Let us use the remarkable achievements of Eckerd College - still in its infancy as colleges go - to build even higher aspirations. Let us, for example, address two glaring weaknesses of our College community, which I would suggest are a disappointing retention rate and a lack of civility among some of our students - within and outside the classroom. I suspect these weaknesses are connected. Let us together create behavioral expectations for our students - so that our students can see for themselves what it is we expect educated men and women to do and not to do. Let us resolve to work together to deepen and enrich the culture and community of Eckerd College for the next fifty years. This is mentoring in the deepest sense.

In his famous "Myth and Symbol" lecture, John Satterfield quoted the classicist Fred Bowra's well-known description of a symbol:

The essence of a symbol is that it expresses in a concrete, particular shape matters which are otherwise almost beyond our grasp, because, even if they can be expressed in abstractions, we fail to catch their full significance, since much of it lies in their appeal to unformulated emotions and to half-conscious memories and desires. A symbol is almost indispensable when dealing with anything that belongs to some transcendental order of being. It makes it visible to the eye of the mind and evokes its character by hint and suggestion and allusive reference.

Four weeks ago, at the "Ceremony of Lights," I challenged our entering students to embrace a high standard of civility in their new College community with these words:

As the great poet William Butler Yeats, wrote: "In dreams begin responsibilities." Tonight you join the community of Eckerd College, for forty-nine years a dream in the process of becoming a reality - a dream of an ideal society, with student learning and student self-governance at its very core. Everything about this College - the way it is organized, the arrangement of the residence halls, the student-run activities program and budget, the focus on mentoring and creating an academic program to fit the interests of each student - everything about this College seeks to provide you with the best possible opportunity for learning.

But that dream is only realized when students - individually and collectively - take up their responsibilities for self-governance, on campus and off. I urge you - in your own self-interest, because you now are Eckerd College - I urge you to take up these new responsibilities, which is the exact price for all the new freedom you will have.

Your exhibition of good manners in class and out, and your intolerance for bad manners by yourself and by others, will not only enrich every day you spend here, but will be an essential part of your development as an educated man or woman.

Let me give you [I went on] just one example: The yellow bicycles you see everywhere on campus have become a symbol of Eckerd College's respect for the environment and its dream of the good society in which all care about the good of all. To the extent that those yellow bicycles are used thoughtfully, and left parked responsibly for the next user, the dream of this community for a sustainable, harmonious world is enriched. But when those yellow symbols are thrown on the grass or in ponds, abused, or permanently "borrowed" when you go home, that dream begins to die.

You all know that we live in a culture in which vulgarity and rudeness are epidemic, an age in which "Grand Theft Auto" is a video game. You begin tonight a journey that can lead, if you are committed to it, to another world. As the philosopher Leo Strauss put it, ‘liberal education is the counter-poison to mass culture.' The world of high purpose, of true learning and the responsible self-governance on which democracies absolutely depend swings its doors wide open for you this night. I hope each of you will answer that call to responsible citizenship in the dream of Eckerd College.

Having challenged our new students with the prospect of contributing to an ideal community let me now challenge each of you to aspire likewise. Having come so far so fast, having survived the crises that beset all colleges (and some that seem uniquely our own), let us - faculty, students, staff, trustees, friends of the College - let us use our successes and our celebrations to reinvigorate our expectations of ourselves and of others - not so we can be the College that Kadel and Bevan, Keeton and Trakas, West and Meacham, Bouwman, Wilbur and Satterfield wanted us to be, but so we can be what we want to be.

This year, the liberal arts college near my hometown, Sewanee, celebrates its 150th anniversary. Like all presidents of liberal arts colleges, Sewanee's first president worried about money and famously said at the college's first public ceremony, in 1857, "We pray for a never-failing succession of benefactors." And so we all pray. And so we should.

The Campaign for Eckerd College, entitled "Transformations," has demonstrated that we have benefactors in great number. They include the 97% of the faculty who have made a campaign pledge and the 76% of the staff who have also made campaign pledges. They include all our trustees, including Mr. Bud Risser and his wife, Fran, whose extremely thoughtful idea and generous gift have made possible the creation and funding of the Satterfield Award.

And someday - this is the "never failing succession" part - someday those benefactors will include you students, who must, if this College is to survive and prosper, one day become its faculty, its staff, its trustees and its benefactors. This Campaign is not only about harvesting the gifts of those who have achieved financial means and who are devoted to the Eckerd College idea, it is also about planting - teaching and mentoring our next generation of leaders about the necessity and the joy of philanthropy.

Professor Satterfield was invited to the Year 2000 Alumni Reunion, more than three decades after he left the College, to reprise his famous "Myth and Symbol" lecture. He was deeply touched and honored by this invitation, and the alumni were once again enthralled by his brilliance and showmanship.
He followed that last lecture with a farewell as moving as a dirge by Handel.

His parting words were these:

We probably won't be able to say exactly what took place with the formation and development of this College. Miracles which include supernatural forces seem strained, unnecessary, and finally questionable to me. But what about surpassingly remarkable outcomes for attempts to create within nature? Jesus, the provocative, charismatic figure upon whom Paul and others would build, with unprecedented insights and some huge cultural biases, a world religion called Christianity, seemed especially concerned that he be known as the Son of Man. That is a relationship which we share with Him and with each other. We would be fools to wish ourselves other than Incarnate. Here, at this institution, there has been and will be continuing recognition of who our brothers, sisters, and neighbors are, their individual worthiness, the permutation of productivity inherent in their bright and dark sides, their possibilities for creation beyond now-known limits, and the actuality of a community in which love guides all governance. I have been exceptionally lucky to participate in this community.

And so are we all - in a community where, at least in aspiration, "love guides all governance." It is hard to imagine how one could do better than that.
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