The World is Waiting For Our Reply

Jake B. Schrum, President
Inaugural Speech, April 4, 2001, Southwestern University

The world is waiting for our reply. The world wants to know if we are prepared and willing to, in the words of Cecil Rhodes, "Fight the world's fight."

Are we prepared? Do we possess the ability to be self-critical, to reach beyond our own well-being, to make informed decisions and to solve difficult problems? Even if we answer "yes," we are prepared to take on the world's challenges...are we willing?

If we are willing, our legacy will be a cleaner planet, a healthier society, and a more peaceful world. Everyone will breathe clean air and drink clean water. There will be food and clothing and medicine to go around. Everyone will have some dignity in his or her life, and we will have taken the responsibility for creating and nurturing a just society.

This is a Utopian view of the possibilities. It is a dream. But it is a dream shared by many people, and it is a dream worth pursuing. But, it's not enough to dream of justice.

If you care about Southwestern University but do not feel compelled to be an active participant in the creation of a better world, then there is no compelling reason to continue to support the existence of this values-oriented liberal arts college.

At Southwestern, our motto is "not who, but what." We believe that knowledge can liberate, thereby inviting the one who has been freed to see, feel, and act on behalf of all humanity in new and compelling ways. Our core values lead our graduates to address the world's plight.

If you have a passion for lifelong learning, are true to yourself and others, foster diverse perspectives, and respect the worth and dignity of persons, then you will always be encouraged to be active in the pursuit of justice and the common good.

The world is waiting for our reply, and the voices of Southwestern University will, as always, be heard.

For over 161 years, longer than any other higher education institution in Texas, our voices have been heard and our actions have changed lives. We will continue to conserve the values which motivate us toward justice for all, and we will converse with each new generation of students in a way that inspires them to "fight the world's fight."

Exactly 33 years ago, on April 4, 1968, the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy had these words to say: "What we need in the United States is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country." He was right. We need love, wisdom, and compassion in our country and in our world. Our problems are global. Our response must be global.

Southwestern was called to Texas by William Barret Travis in the form of Rutersville College chartered in 1840. A Jewish physician, A.M. Levy, who had bravely served the new Republic in Houston's army, stepped forward and gave Martin Ruter 340 acres of land, and Rutersville had its first endowment. The Republic of Texas needed a college that would produce men and women who would answer the call and prepare themselves to make a better life and a better world.

Thousands of students, first at Rutersville, Wesleyan, Soule, and McKenzie, and now at Southwestern, have been the loyal voices blending to sing the best that alma mater has to offer.

And now, before I end my remarks, I want especially to address all Southwestern students.

Please hear these words from Marge Piercy's poem, The Seven of Pentacles:

    Under a sky the color of pea soup
    She is looking at her work growing away
    Actively, thickly grapevines or pole beans
    As things grow in the real world,
         slowly enough.
    If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if
         you water,
    If you provide birds that eat insects a home
         and winter food,
    If the sun shines and you pick off
    If the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs
         and the bees,
    Then the plants flourish, but at their own
         internal clock.

    Connections are made slowly, sometimes they
         grow underground.
    You cannot tell always by looking what is
    More than half a tree is spread out in the
         soil under your feet.
    Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that
         blows no trumpet.
    Fight persistently as the creeper that brings
         down the tree.
    Spread like the squash plant that overruns
         the garden.
    Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make
    Weave real connections, create real nodes,
         build real houses.
    Live a life you can endure: Make love that is
    Keep tangling and interweaving and taking
         more in,
    A thicket and bramble wilderness to the
         outside but to us
    Interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows
         and lairs.

    Live as if you liked yourself, and it may
    Reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
    This is how we are going to live for a long
         time: not always,
    For every gardener knows that after the
         digging, after the planting,
    After the long season of tending and growth,
         the harvest comes.

Students of Southwestern, for 161 years thousands of people, many in this audience today, have been building this University for your benefit. But not only for you, we have high expectations, we believe you CAN change the world. The world, in fact, is waiting for your reply.

Copyright Southwestern University