by Dr. W. Craig Turner, President
(Catawba College, May 15, 2010)
Congratulations! Your presence here today is evidence of your hard work and commitment to earn a degree from Catawba College. We are proud of you and look forward to the many wonderful things that you will accomplish as you go out into the real world.
I have chosen to build my remarks on one of my favorite foundations: great literature. I want to encourage you with some wisdom that isn't mine, but that emanates from one of the greatest writers in our language. I apologize in advance for reading a quotation, but what I want to do is to offer advice, built on a favorite piece of fiction, and I know of no better way to do it than to read from the master himself.
Atticus Finch, the hero of Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, was the surprising number 1 choice in the AFI list of greatest movie heroes several years ago when the list appeared. As Harper Lee has created him in her novel, Atticus is a man with a great capacity to see differing points of view, to choose the moral course of action (regardless of what others say), and to demonstrate a heart that reaches out in compassion. More surprisingly, Boo Radley, an enigmatic shadowy figure whose legend haunts the children, proves to be a hero himself, saving Scout and Jem — Atticus Finch's two children. Scout, the daughter who tells us the story, remarks at the end of her adventure:
[Boo and I] came to the street light on the corner, and ... I entered the Radley front gate for the second time in my life. Boo and I walked up the steps to the front porch. His fingers found the doorknob. He gently released my hand, opened the door, went inside, and shut the door behind him. I never saw him again.
Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back in the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad.
I turned to go home. Street lights winked down the street all the way to town. I had never seen our neighborhood from this angle.
...Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley front porch was enough. (TKM, p. 278-79.
What a marvelous skill to develop: a capacity to care enough to stand in the other person's shoes, or even just on his front porch. Don't be sad someday that you have never given back to those around you.
My advice to you is to encourage you to stand in others' shoes with a compassionate, caring heart.
Congratulations on this very special milestone day in your life: you are the future of our world. May God Bless you!