Frank Rhodes Commencement Address 2003

Frank Rhodes Commencement Address 2003


>>Frank Rhodes: Chancellor Mullen,
Chairmen Groom, and other members of
the board of trustees, distinguished honorary
degree recipients, Justice Fry, Mr. Mortain,
Doctor Moses, distinguished members of the
faculty and staff, but most off all fellow members
of the class of 2003. Families and Friends
of that class, welcome to this great day. It’s been said that a number two
pencil and a dream can carry you a long way, and that’s
reinforced this morning by the graduation of this great class
of ’03. You have come from every corner
of the state, every state in the nation, to
gather this morning on the campus of Asheville to celebrate
the achievement of four years, or more, of devoted learning. And this is not just any degree, it is a University of North
Carolina Asheville degree, and I join in congratulating
you on that. This is a remarkable
institution, and I can only admire the
progress that it’s made in the short years of its existence. Ranked number five, as you’ve
heard, repeatedly, by US News and World
Report in liberal arts universities in the public
sector. I look forward with confidence
to number four next year, to number three in two years
time, and movement up to the top, but
beyond that it is an institution which is small enough in size to
give you an intimacy of learning, and large enough to
provide a choice of subject matter for that learning. It is a remarkable institution
with sixteen sports in division one of the NCAA, but with a
graduation rate for participants of seventy-four percent. Far above the average for the
division! It’s a remarkable institution at
a time when the cost of higher education has become a matter of
public concern because it is listed both by the Princeton
Review and by Pipplinger’s Magazine as one of the great
values in higher education. Congratulations on graduating today from a remarkable
institution. In retrospect, I know it hasn’t
been easy. Joe Lewis once remarked on
winning the world championship, if I had known it was going to
be this difficult, I probably wouldn’t have done
it. I imagine that all of you are
feeling a little like Joe Lewis today. Behind you and beside you in
that long journey to today’s commencement, there lies the
support and contributions of the members of the families
represented, parents, brothers, sisters,
spouses, children, and other relatives,
those who have been there for you through these long years of
school in college. I want you to solute them today
and tell them how much we appreciate the support they’ve
given on the way. Members of families of today’s
graduates stand up, will you, so that we can solute
you? [Applause] We thank you for all
that confidence, and support, and love that
today’s graduation represents. There’s an old student slogan
from the ‘60’s, be realistic, demand the
impossible, and you must have felt at times
as though UNC Asheville was doing just that. And now to cap your careers, it
demands that after four years of sitting through lectures, you
sit through just once more before you graduate, presumably
because you might have missed something along the way. I have to tell you that
commencement speeches serve several functions. Some arise from them greatly
inspired, and some awake from them greatly
refreshed, and I invite you to take your
choice. The longest on record is one
given at Yale, where a prominent public orator
said that he would use the four letters of Yale to talk about
the importance of the day, and he began with “Y”. “Y” is for youth, and the energy
and the vision that it brings, and for thirty-four long
minutes, he talked about the significance
of youth. And “A” is for ambition, without
which there could be no great achievement, and for twenty-nine minutes he discoursed
on ambition. And “L” is for loyalty, the
loyalties of this beloved Alma Mater, and for
thirty-four long minutes, and “E” is for enthusiasm, that
which carries us forward on this great journey of life, and at
that point at before he’d really warmed up to the subject, a
weary student leaned over and said to his neighbor, “Thank
heavens this isn’t the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology”, but there are dangers. This is the University of North
Carolina Asheville. The shortest speech on record at
a graduation, is Bob Hope, some years ago,
talking to a graduating class, and said very simply, “To those
of you are about to leave the campus and go out into the real
world, and want my advice, here it is:
don’t go”. But you are going, and unless
you go quickly, you’re about to graduate and
join the “so-called” real world. Memories rush in of these past
years, of faculty members and staff who
have been so important to our growth and our learning, of
friends from teams, and dorms, and clubs on the
campus who have meant so much to us over the years of college, of
this matchless setting with the opportunity of so many wonderful
activities within the region. All those are memories we shall
cherish, but behind those there lurks a
haunting questions, is there life after UNC
Asheville, or are these the golden years that can never be restored
or replaced? Is there life after UNC
Asheville? I answer, firmly, that there is. Providing, that you get a life! Get a life, we say to a
roommate, who spends all her time studying
and never lifts her head to look at world around. Get a life, we say to a friend,
who spends more time grumbling about our activities then
thinking about his own. Get a life, it has been said
that getting a life, making a life, involves three
things: something to do, someone to love, and something
to hope for, but this, you say, is different. We are graduates of the
post-9/11 era. We are graduates of the war in
Iraq. We are graduates who live under the cloud of North Korean
nuclear weapons. This is a time when dreams and
heroes died. What about the job market? Get a job, something to do? How good can it really be? You know the story of the
liberal arts graduate who was being interviewed at the time of
the career fair on the campus. He had just been studying Hamlet
during his senior year, and the interviewer said to him,
“you know how useful that will be to you?” Suppose you were a
young prince of Denmark, coming back from school, and you
return home to find out that your uncle had murdered your
father, and married your mother. And then you fell in love with a
beautiful young woman, Ophelia, but you murdered her
father by mistake, and she went crazy and committed
suicide, what would you do? And the bewildered, young,
English graduate said, “I guess I’d go back for a
master’s degree”. Something to do, all of you will
have something to do. You’ve earned a degree and
you’ve earned the right to a fulfilling career, but careers
are what we make of them. Robert Bellow once declared,
“There are three kinds of activities which are reimbursed. The first is a job, and a job is
a position in which you work for reward to support yourself and
your family. Then there’s a career, in which you follow a
well-recognized path and assume greater responsibilities
as time goes on. But the transition, the third
kind of prospect is a calling. A calling, a true vocation in
which your skills are matched so perfectly with your beliefs and
values and hopes, that it becomes a life-long
fulfillment.” I hope that those of you that go to jobs today,
will grow in those jobs into
careers, and callings, because you can literally
make a difference. What does getting a life mean? Something to do, and you will do
it well. It also means someone to love,
and you’ve expressed your love today to those closest to you,
in the applause that you’ve given to your families. Oh, that’s easy, you say, in a
campus such as this. My roommate and I are such
friends that we’ll remain together, friends for the rest
of our lives. The teams that I’ve played on,
they’ve been so important in creating friendships on the
campus, and I have a boyfriend! We’ve talked about marriage
together, and raising a family. But you know, friendships made
in the springtime of life tend to whither with distance, and
close relationships made in life’s springtime, tend to
wither in winter. How important that we should be
champions of the power of love. Someone to love, the families
closest to you today, how important it is to maintain those bonds as you
move to new areas. This nation is weakened today by
the weakness of the family. Urie Bronfenbrenner once
declared, “The family is the greatest
invention yet known, and certainly the most
economical for making human beings human, and keeping them
that way.” How wonderful, if at your graduation, you were
to become champions of a family. Something to do, someone to
love, and finally something to hope
for, what hope can there be in an age
such as this? With economic downturn, with
limited prospects, in a time when some would say
that the prospect is less open for us, then for our parents. And I answer every hope. Arthur Ashe once said, “true
heroism, true heroism, and is very
undemonstrative, very unremarkable. It consists not of overcoming
and surpassing others of whatever cast, but of serving
others at whatever cost, and today is an occasion of
hope, for three reasons. First because with your
graduation, the world is reborn, the skills,
the energy, the devotion, that you will
bring to our society make the world a new place. And second, the knowledge that
you will bring, the skills that you will bring,
humanly and wisely applied, can move the world. And third, because for all our
frustrations, and for all our failures, humanity is capable
of redemption. George Carry, the former head of
the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “so
there are three postulates of democracy, not that humans are
good, but that they can respond to
goodness, not that they have abolished
corruption, but that they are heartily sick
of corruption. Not that they have created a
great society, but they have a caught an
unforgettable glimpse of a great society.” With your graduation
there is hope, because the world is reborn. The skills that you bring make a
difference, and because humanity can be
challenged and restored and redeemed by what you bring. Tomorrow this lovely campus will
be empty, and this quadrangle will have
lost all the chairs and canopies, which cover it today. Tomorrow, you will have returned
to your homes and other places, and long before that you will have forgotten everything
that I say today. I hope however, that in that
forgetting, you might remember three words:
work, and love, and hope, because with
them you can move the world. With them, the world is
transformed. With those, you the class of ‘03
will do great things. Members of the great class of
2003, congratulations, good success,
god speed! [Applause]

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