“Maintaining Equilibrium in Times of Challenge and Loss”
I hasten to add my welcome to those of others as we begin this auspicious year. For every year that you aspire to be better, every year that you prepare yourself for the future, every year that there is work to do and you are willing to do it is an auspicious year. During the recent hurricane, as I watched family members and neighbors suffer monumental loss; as I contemplated the many ways in which our life circumstances can change in an instant; as I reflected on the gratitude I feel for the very simple gifts in life, my attention turned to all of you who, at this moment, are preparing for the uncertainties that you will face over the course of your lives. In thinking about the miraculous ways in which my own education has helped me achieve the personal fortitude needed to regain ones equilibrium in moments of crisis, I felt deeply grateful to be in a position to support you in your educational journey.
There are, to be sure, many advantages that your education, taken seriously, will offer you through every period of your life. I take it as a given that it will enhance your earning power and facilitate your professional advancement. But your education, more importantly, can help you avert problems that might otherwise overwhelm you. So often people find themselves in crises of their own making because they made a series of irrational choices in life. Your choices can be advantaged by your study of historical events; by insights you gain from the debate of contrasting views; by your ability to distinguish fact from fiction; and by a studied sense of what constitutes moral behavior. All of these advantages derive from from serious study.
Your education can assure you the equilibrium that keeps you strong when unexpected setbacks cause you to doubt yourself and your future. Your self-confidence will be tested repeatedly over the course of your life in ways you cannot now imagine: in the work place, in your peer group, even in your family life. If you have practiced informed personal reflection, drawn benefit from the information and guidance offered by faculty, and been an active participant in creating a capacious intellectual home from which you can view the world and its phenomena, you will be on your way to building on and sustaining that equilibrium and creating the wisdom that underpins it. No one is born wise; one gains wisdom from attentiveness to knowledge and experience, thoughtful and respectful interaction with others and the willingness to heed insights gained from the march of time. I cannot promise that you will be wise upon graduation from Prairie View but I can promise you that if you take to heart and nurture the insights that become manifest over your time here, you will be borne through life as on a magic balance beam on which you may teeter from time to time but from which you will repeatedly descend, maintaining your balance.
I trust that, like me, you have been struck during the recent hurricane by the many stories of strangers rescuing stranded citizens without regard for race or creed, economic stratum or social standing. This should be a reminder to all of us that the advantage of education cannot supplant the importance of basic human respect, decency and compassion. Indeed, some of the wisest of our elders have not been formally educated to the degree that you already have been. If your education here serves you well, it should demonstrate to you that you are not wiser and better than others solely by virtue of seeking or holding a college degree. I can think of nothing more craven than a presumably well-educated person who believes and acts on the conviction that they are better and more deserving than others. Let us uphold in this community that all are deserving of compassion and respect. Let us be of one mind in speaking the truth of this proposition – that we are all created equal. Let us be of one voice in seeking justice for all.
There is one final word with which I want to leave you. I am pleased and grateful to be here with you and I am proud to serve as your president. Some would have me believe that my work was done when I completed my term as President of an Ivy League university. Not so. To be a part of the powerful legacy that Prairie View represents is an awesome privilege for me.
You will for the rest of your lives answer questions about this moment in your lives. What was it like to experience Hurricane Harvey? How did you react to unfolding events? When your children ask, be able to say that you stepped forward to comfort the discouraged; you stepped forward to serve your communities; you stepped forward to make sure that your education meant more than a yellowing degree hanging on your wall. So, go to work and make your education mean something.
Have a wonderful and fruitful year!