(Continued from Kington Inauguration Speech Part 1)
We at Grinnell see educating young people committed to and prepared to work for positive social change as an indispensable part of our mission.
Four and a half years after he wrote that letter, on November 1, 1967, Dr. King visited Grinnell College. He was delayed in arriving, and before a capacity audience of 7,000* in the old Darby Gymnasium, he apologized for his truncated visit to the campus because he had to report to prison the next day to serve his 19th jail sentence, this time in Birmingham, Alabama. He was introduced by another luminary who was on campus, Dr. Benjamin Mays, his long-time mentor and the President of Morehouse College, who was also visiting. His speech was entitled Remaining Awake During A Revolution, and in his speech he repeated the same statement about human progress that he had made in his Birmingham letter, eloquently of the importance of maintaining a global perspective and warned against missing the opportunity to engage, especially at a time of great social change. His words are as relevant today as they were in 1967.
As an institution dedicated to the future through the students we graduate, we know that positive social change, a core mission of Grinnell College, does not happen spontaneously or inevitably. We know it requires hard work on our part, hard work to make real our commitment to educate men and women "who are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and
their abilities to serve the common good."
Grinnell's social consciousness blossomed during Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency, when graduates like Harry Hopkins became influential New Deal administrators.
Over the years, Grinnell has consistently placed among the top colleges in deploying our graduates to Peace Corps.
During Grinnell's sesquicentennial, the College institutionalized a service awards program - later named the Wall Alumni Service Awards - which to date has provided financial support to 30 Grinnell alumni to engage in service projects, programs and organizations dedicated to improving the lives of others.
Grinnell Corps is our post-graduate service program funded by the College and partner institutions. It provides graduating seniors with the opportunity to work in China, Lesotho, Thailand, Namibia, and New Orleans in education, conservation and anti-poverty programs.
In 2010 among schools with fewer than 3,000 undergraduates, Grinnell contributed the third largest number of seniors - 13 - to Teach for America, a program that helps break the cycle of educational inequity in communities across
I'm extremely proud of these accomplishments - as well as the findings of a recent national survey which found that Grinnell students were among the country's most socially minded.
Today, our commitment to social justice continues through a strong philosophy of self governance and personal responsibility, as well as through programs and initiatives that encourage students to learn about the world beyond the campus and to effect positive social change.
I very much wanted to include a strong service component in this inauguration to remind all of us about the call to contribute, in large ways and small, to the broader society that provides higher education institutions the privileges we so enjoy - our prestige, our tax exempt status, and our intellectual freedom.
Today's 'Day of Service' commenced early this morning. More than 250 students, faculty, staff and community members signed up for volunteer work at more than 25 sites in our community, and I am delighted by that showing and hope that this will be a new tradition at Grinnell!
Speaking to our students, many of whom participated in this morning's activities, we know that the future of higher education, as well as our larger society, will not be shaped exclusively or even primarily by those of us now in positions of authority, but rather by people like you - tomorrow's leaders. And none more so than the first winners of the Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize. The college established this program this year as one way to recognize this distinctive part of our history and identity at this time of change in leadership.
The 2011 Grinnell Prize received more than1,200 nominations from 66 countries of people under the age of 40. Students were involved in every step of the selection process of winnowing the nominations from 1200 to 3. As we revealed on Thursday, the prize honors individuals who have demonstrated leadership in their fields and who showed creativity, commitment and extraordinary accomplishment in effecting positive social change.
Our nominees spanned a diverse array of social issues, including hunger relief, childhood education, environmental issues, literacy, youth arts, faith-based organizations, violence prevention, immigration, GLBTQ services, youth services, hospice care, children's mental health and global peace.
And from this impressive pool of candidates, three extraordinary Grinnell Prize winners emerged.
Boris Bulayev, Age 26, and Eric Glustrom, Age 27, of an organization called Educate!
They established a remarkable organization to educate and empower the next generation of socially responsible leaders in Africa. In Uganda they successfully incorporated social entrepreneurship training into the country's national education system. Their curriculum will empower as many as 100,000 diverse high school students across the country to transform their enthusiasm into action.
Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, Age 35, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director, Encounter
She helped established an educational organization dedicated to providing global leaders from across the religious and political spectrum with face-face exposure to Palestinian life. Her bold, transformative approach stresses civility of discourse in a way that can open minds and potentially promote peace.
James Kofi Annan, Age 37, Executive Director, Challenging Heights
A survivor of child trafficking, he established Challenging Heights to provide education for children who have returned from the worst forms of child labor.
With incredible initiative, he rose to become a university graduate and manager at Barclays Bank of Ghana. In April 2007, he resigned from the bank to devote his full-time efforts to promote the mission of Challenging Heights - providing education, health and advocacy programs for vulnerable children.
Each of these exceptional Grinnell Prize winners pursues positive social change as their life's work. They will come to campus in the fall to talk to our students about their work, and we are now working to develop opportunities for students to complete internships with the organizations that will receive the funds. All of the winners are agitators - restless individuals incensed about injustice in the world, and determined to redress it.
I borrow this concept of restless agitators from a wonderful essay by the famous sociologist and civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois entitled "The Value of Agitation," published more than 100 years ago. When criticized as a part of the Niagra Movement in the early 1900's for being too aggressive in demanding full equality for African Americans, he wrote:
There are those people in the world who object to agitation and one cannot wholly blame them. Agitation after all is unpleasant....It is not a pleasant role to play. It is not always pleasant to nice ears to hear a man ever coming with his dark facts and unpleasant conditions.
Nevertheless, it is the highest optimism to bring forward the dark side of any human picture. When a man does this he says to the world: "Things are bad, but it is worthwhile to let the world know that things are bad in order that they may become better. The real crushing pessimism takes hold of the world when people say things are so bad that they are not worth complaining of because they cannot be made better."
As an institution committed to preparing students to change the world, we celebrate agitators and agitation that comes from shining a harsh light on society's difficult truths, and then devising solutions that address them fairly. We proudly acclaim our alumni and their spirit of social entrepreneurial drive as agitators!
So how will you, our students, committed as you are to agitation, to engaging in efforts to change the world, take the fruits of your Grinnell liberal arts education and square it with the concrete, near-term challenges of entering the tough job market of today?
I personally believe a liberal arts education represents the best investment students can make in themselves, and the times have never been more relevant for the education we offer. Why? Because a liberal arts education provides its graduates with the vital analytical, problem-solving and adaptive learning skills needed for a constantly transforming world.
You are fortunate that your Grinnell education continuously evolves with programs like the Expanding Knowledge Initiative, which has introduced curricular innovations in interdisciplinary areas such as environmental sustainability.
Your education is enriched in a 1001 ways by faculty members who continuously expand their knowledge in order to equip you with the highest quality liberal arts education.
But we Grinnellians cannot allow ourselves to become too comfortable or complacent!
Preparing students to change the world is a heavy burden - one that will require us constantly to re-assess our curriculum, pedagogy, student body composition, residential experience, and technology, while remaining true to the ideals of a Grinnell liberal arts education. As we confront the chaos that characterizes higher education today, it is reassuring to know that a grounding in the liberal arts provides us with a strong foundation.
To underscore that point, let me read a wonderfully written section of a report on higher education... that was beautifully written. The report says:
"...much uncertainty exists as to what is listened to, and how and by whom. Meanwhile a shower of technical innovation in communications descends upon us, each enough by itself to originate an epoch.
And the psychologic assumptions, the philosophic coordinates upon and by which to test and place them remain "with one foot in the unconscious and the other in the Middle Ages."
We are at a turning point indeed in human affairs though we can do no more than guess what vectors may be needed to describe our spin.
General education is the sole means by which communities can protect themselves from the ill effects of over-rapid change. For its concern is with what is the same throughout all changes and with the process of change itself and the techniques of taking account of it.
Remarkably, that passage was written 60 years ago in the Harvard Report entitled General Education in a Free Society, which actually became a best seller. Six decades later after an enormous expansion of what we know about our world, we still can only guess "what vectors may be needed to describe the spin of our change." And yet we must prepare our students for the future knowing that it is uncertain, as it has always been and will always be.
I can think of no more gratifying opportunity than to lead this institution at this point in time!
In closing, I'd like to reflect on the messages of slave spirituals, which have always had great meaning for me - and you will soon hear a song from that tradition sung by Grinnell students. I learned these songs primarily in the music classes in my elementary school, part of the de facto segregated Baltimore City schools of my childhood.
These spirituals have been called "Sorrow Songs" - and that surely is one of their most poignant themes. But with their soulful words and music, they also summon the strength needed for difficult times... and they offer hope for a better time in the future.
And I am hopeful for many reasons...
First, because I must be hopeful that the world our two little boys will enter will be better than the world that we entered...
I am hopeful because of the concrete evidence of changes in our society since my birth, changes that have allowed me to be at this place at this time, when so many others before me of equal or superior skills and intelligence were denied similar opportunities.
I am hopeful because I see the staff of our college so dedicated to our mission that they make it here without fail through snow and rain and hail - no matter what - so that our students are safe and fed and supported so that they may learn.
I am hopeful because of the remarkable record of our alumni in meaningful achievements true to our core values in settings around the world, alumni who remain connected to this place and to those who follow in their footsteps long after they have graduated.
I am hopeful because of the countless acts of kindness and generosity toward our students by the citizens of the town of Grinnell.
I am also hopeful because I see faculty members who dedicate themselves - far beyond their classroom curricula - to the needs of their students... to the rigors of their profession... to the pursuit of new ideas.
But most importantly, I am hopeful because every day I see before me the potential of young people - agitated with the world as it is and compelled to make it better. Your aspirations and energy are the life-sustaining blood of this College.
Thank you for the honor of serving this remarkable institution. [applause]