May 9, 2004
by Dr. William R. Harvey
Thank you, Mr. Fountain, for that wonderful introduction. Thank you also for
your leadership and guidance as Chairman of Hampton’s Board of Trustees.
I also want to thank Dr. Haysbert for her leadership as Acting President
during my sabbatical. She has done an outstanding job.
To the parents and extended families of the graduating classes
of 2004, I extend to you my congratulations and my highest
appreciation for the level of sacrifice
and support which has placed these young people in the seats of honor which
they occupy today.
To the members of the faculty and staff who help create and
sustain the vision of Hampton University as an institution
dedicated to preserving what is the
best of the past and to inventing boldly, the future, my thanks for your
To the alumni, who are the keeps of the flame, thank you for
always being there. In that regard, I want to acknowledge
Mrs. Anne Baird Bridges for a job well
done as President of the National Hampton Alumni Association, Inc.
To the members of Quintessence V, the Class of 2004, please
know how special you are to me. In my capacity as President
of Hampton University, I have been
invited to deliver speeches literally all over the world. But I want you
to know that, I have never been more honored and pleased
to deliver my first Commencement
Address at Hampton University. Thank you for inviting me. And I want you
to know that I love you madly!
As a point of personal privilege, I want to acknowledge that
my daughter Leslie is graduating today with a Masters in
Early Childhood Education. Leslie,
know how proud your mother and I are of you.
The Commencement exercise has been described in many ways, but
I like to think of it as that brief intermission between the
act of formal academic study,
and the act of real life. As your participation in this Commencement exercise
attests, during the last act of four or more years’ those of you in the
2004 graduating class obviously performed your parts well. You learned your
lines; you mastered the meaning and significance of your subjects, the subtleties
and nuances of your parts. In the process, you came to a new awareness of intellectual
exchange, of social interaction, of human relationships, and of human understanding.
Moreover, you played out your chosen parts on the stage of Hampton
University against a larger backdrop of national and global
change. Change which could
not help but alter the interpretation and rendering of your performance. You
have witnessed terrorists attack our country by flying airplanes into the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon. You have witnessed our country going to war
to rid the world of a tyrant whose evil was matched only by Adolph Hitler.
You have witnessed a national recession with unprecedented job losses and a
recovery in the making with almost 900,000 new jobs becoming available since
January. Closer to home, you have also witnessed tragedy in your own Senior
Class, as just last month one of your classmates was killed. Our thoughts are
with his family.
This national and world stage in which you are a part, is moving
so fast until there are days when a person who says it can’t
be done, is interrupted by someone who it doing it.
As you worked hard to master your parts, I am sure that at times
you were disheartened. You experienced a fallen prop, a miscued
line, an unsuccessful audition. On
occasion, you may have been like an ailing actor struggling to survive a performance,
yet you knew that the show must go on.
Despite these obstacles, you triumphed. You triumphed because of your own innate
intelligence and skill. You triumphed because of your own discipline and perseverance.
You triumphed because of the knowledge and experience of your parents, ministers,
faculty, and administrators—those artisans who produced and directed
your magnificent performance. You also triumphed because you are a Hamptonian—and
that makes you special. And don’t you ever forget it.
And now, during your commencement exercise, the curtain has
come down. We pause for intermission between the end of that
act of academic study and
the beginning of a life-time act on the stage of life. We will use this moment
of intermission as a moment of rest from the challenge of the past and a time
of reflection and preparation for the demands of the future.
When the curtain rises on the act which is to follow this day, you will discover
that your stage is no long Hampton University, founded in 1868 by Gen. Samuel
Chapman Armstrong. Just as the stage changed for your soon to be alma mater—from
two teachers, 15 students, little money or equipment—to a strong faculty
and staff, a great physical plant and, stable finances, your stage will also
change. Yours shall become the world’s stage. And it is how you perform
on that stage that your performance shall be ultimately judged.
When the curtain rises on the act which is to follow this day,
not only will the stage, the cast, and the crew be larger,
you will also discover that the
audience, the targets of your performance shall be very different. At Hampton
University, the primary object was to master the subject—mathematics,
biology, English, pharmacy, business, nursing, physical therapy, education,
sociology, or whatever your chosen discipline. Now, you must rely on your own
performance, on your faith in the power of your own potential, and on your
determination to carry out strategies of self-help and to gain self-sufficiency
and economic independence.
When the curtain rises on the act following this day, you will
not cast yourselves into the permanent role of pupil. You
will become the master. You must not
be content to forever serve as the employee. You will be the employer.
It’s wonderful to work for a major corporation, but one
day, I want someone out of this class to run a major corporation,
to run PepsiCola, or IBM, or
Bank of America. Instead of merely working in a daycare center, I want someone
out of this class to own a string of daycare centers. To the newly commissioned
2nd Lieutenants, I want to see some of you one day replace those shiny gold
bars with a General’s shiny silver stars. Instead of being a legislative
assistant to a Senator, I want someone out of this class to be a U. S. Senator.
It is not too far fetched for someone out of this class to one day invite Mrs.
Harvey and me to visit them in the Oval Office of the White House.
Now, let me tell you that these things do not just happen. It requires a good
work ethic, sacrifice, and responsible actions on your part. It has been said
that the only place that success comes before work is in the dictionary.
Quintessence V, I do not want you to leave the education and
guidance of your destiny to those who have their own agenda
and really care nothing about yours.
Rather, in your individual neighborhoods, in your social organizations, and
church groups, you will nurture them yourselves.
When the curtain rises for your next act, you will also discover
that your performance shall require a new sense of values.
During the last four-year-act,
you perhaps well afforded the luxury of limiting your values to a car, designer
labels, a swank apartment, gold jewelry, and an occasional “A” to
balance the “C” so that these items would be in easier grasp. On
this new, large stage, you will be forced to value not only the material objects
or grades. Rather, you will be forced to value good health, family, honesty,
decency, integrity, responsibility, and other non-material things.
Hopefully, you will come to
discover that self-fulfillment does not reside in immediate gratification
solely in the extensiveness
of material holdings. For whatever satisfies the appetite one moment may well
repel it the next. You will discover that passion wanes. Money is bargained
away; cars and houses erode; and jewels lose their glitter. You will discover
that the only fulfillment worth valuing is that which emanates from faith in
a power which is larger than yourselves, from the gratification of having reached
the outer limits of your intellectual potential, from the satisfaction of a
job well done, and from the knowledge that you have been of service to mankind.
Perhaps more importantly than any of
the other changes in this drama—when
the curtain rises on the act which is to follow this day, you will find that
you roles have changed. You will no longer be the mere stars and starlets of
the production which is to follow. Rather, you will have assumed the role of
producers, directors, and leaders of the new stars of the next generation.
The notion that the future of our race, our nation, and our world now depends
on you, must seem to you by now, nothing more than an old cliché. And
that may well be. But when the curtain rises for the act which follows, you
will discover that it is also an inescapable truism. Like it or not, you will
indeed be in charge.
You will no longer be able
to cite the shortcoming of today’s
parents as the source of your own shortcoming. You will be the
parents. You will no
longer be able to cite the inadequacies of today’s educators, corporate
heads, and political leaders as the sole cause of our nation’s failures.
You will be the educators, the corporate heads, and the politicians. As such,
you will decide if we will continue to tolerate drugs and crime, hunger and
suffering, injustice and inequality. You will decide the nature of our moral
an ethical revolutions. You will decide whether we as a nation will resolve
our differences through reasoned and informed dialogue and dissent, or whether
we will be content to live with perpetual anarchy and chaos. And yes—you
will decide the ultimate question—whether we shall obliterate mankind
with nuclear weapons, or whether we shall lie together in harmony and peace.
And this, graduating seniors, is the ultimate drama in which you shall participate.
During the course of this next act in the drama of life, what
you will ultimately discover is that the play was not really
a play at all. Rather, it was the
real thing—real life—real people—real challenges—real
actions—with real consequences.
Therefore, from your positions as producers, directors, leaders
in this real life performance, make certain that you continue
to prepare yourselves. Make
certain that you continue to grow, personally and intellectually.
Learning should never be a static thing. It should continue
throughout your lives, opening new doors, evoking new insights,
expanding your horizons,
and continually creating opportunities for good. Be mindful of the choices
you make. Make certain that the line cues which you give, the stage direction
which you map out, and the examples which you set, shall be borne of an
informed intellect, a moral sensibility, and a firm commitment
to the preservation
of our race, our nation, and our world.
IT’S UP TO YOU
You are the fellow that has to decide
Whether you’ll do it or toss it aside,
You are the fellow who makes up your mind
Whether you’ll lead or linger behind;
Whether you’ll try for the goal that’s afar
Or be contented to stay just where you are.
Take it or leave it. Here’s something to do.
Just think it over. It’s all up to you!
What do you wish? To be known as a shirk
Or know as a good person who’s willing to work.
Scorned for a loafer or praised by your chief
Rich man or poor man or beggar or thief;
Eager or earnest or dull through the day,
Honest or crooked? It’s you who must say!
You must decide in the fact of the test
Whether you’ll shirk it or give it your best.
~Edgar A. Guest
To me, the worst thing in life is not to fail, rather the worst
thing is not to try to succeed; to live in that gray twilight
that knows neither the brightness
nor shadow; neither victory nor defeat. Really, it is up to you.
It is in this context that I challenge each and every one of
you to make the most of your natural gifts; to build a richly
satisfying personal life with
room for laughter, but strength to confront sadness; to engage the community
in order to make it a better place for yourselves and your neighbors; and
to make a commitment to grow and continue learning the rest
of your life.
Cherished graduates, our solemn hope and
greatest wish, as you depart you “Home
by the Sea,” is that you see the horizon not as a limit but as an invitation.
The torch has been passed to you with the expectation that you will hold it
higher and carry it farther than those who walked before you.
I urge you to do several other things: (1) Pay yourself first.
No matter how small, save something from every paycheck.
(2) Buy some property. I have brought
property in every state that I have lived in since I got out of college.
Property appreciates. That new car will not; it will depreciate
when you drive it out
of the showroom floor.
Two of the greatest evils in our society are racism and drugs.
Fight racism every time it raises its ugly head. Remember,
sometimes it comes from those
who claim to be our friends. Stay away from drugs and drug dealers. If association
with either does not destroy your life, it will make your miserable at some
point in your life.
Remember always to support your alma mater—with your resources,
with positive words, and with your prayers. As you leave your “Home
by the Sea,” remember that you are responsible for sustaining
the legacy of the Hampton Empire. So I now charge you—members
of Quintessence V, Class of 2004—to don your shields of
power, strength, and unity.
- Be positive role models
- Be leaders in your respective fields
- In other words, be somebody!
I congratulate you on what you have already achieved, and I
rejoice, for the world will be made better through your continued
Quintessence V, the world is waiting for you. Serve it and Hampton
well. The time for talking is over. Let’s get on with