"LIFE HAS ITS MEANINGFUL HOURS"
By CHARLES L. ANSPACH, President, Central Michigan College of Education
Delivered at the Senior Swingout, Central Michigan College, Mount Pleasant, Michigan, June 2, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 626-628.
AS a child I was very much impressed by the words, High Noon. In our community the important weddings were consummated and receptions were held at High Noon. Since the important people were given in marriage at noon day and only important people attended receptions at noon time, the words took on deep significance. Since my childhood days I have found that the "real" people are the important people and that the time of day a marriage is celebrated has nothing to do with the intrinsic worth of people. In spite of this discovery the words hold a strange fascination for me, strengthened I suppose by the fact that I was married at noon day, and that one of our daughters was born at noon, amid a chorus of factory whistles.
High Noon, marks the highest point of the day. It stands over head. High noon is the meridian hour. Today it marks the highest point of our lives. It is quite possible that it may also be High Noon for civilization, at least it can be truthfully said that each commencement is a High Noon for at that point we reach the highest in possibilities and potentialities. For, from the colleges and universities come thousands of young men and women trained not only to do the of the world but equipped also to recreate and create new worlds. Before a continent is actually discovered, itexists in the mind of the would-be explorer. Before man actually travelled by steam, rail, and automobile, he visited the far corners of the earth in his imagination. Before man sailed through the sky he first mounted on high on wings in his dreams. Before life is made better through the organized efforts of men, it is reworked in the inner chambers of heart and mind. In the combination of you, education, and social need we have the basis for progress. Actually, it is High Noon for you; potentially, it is High Noon for the world.
High Noon marks a time of day when human activities are high. A morning's work has been completed. Projects have been started which call for the afternoon hours for their completion. Appointments have been made which will bring interesting people within the circle of one's acquaintance. There has been achievement which brings satisfaction and joy. The ringing of bells and sounding of whistles brings to a close the morning hours. In the cities men and women hurry out of the offices, market places, factories, and commercial houses in search of food, recreation, intellectual improvement, and spiritual stimulation. Children leave the work of the school to enter the friendly circle of the home. In the rural district the farmer leaves the plow for the dinner bell, the shade of the tree and companionship of his family.
So it is when times are normal. Today we have completed the morning hours, but the afternoon hours are uncertain. We tend to anticipate the evening shadows.
In the play, "On the Eve of St. Mark", the son is about to bid his parents goodbye, as he leaves for active service. In his farewell, he said, "Where I am going it may be high noon for you and midnight for me." And so it may be high noon for some and midnight for others. But, graduates, it has always been thus. It has always been high noon for some and midnight for others. Life has never been too considerate or kind and yet life is worth living, and it does have its meaningful hours.
Some of our number have gone from us, and they have faced midnight. I believe, however, that they are able to face midnight because of the High Noon of yesterday and the promise of a new morn. The morning hours have been spent and the afternoon hours are yet to be. The idealism, perseverance, and sacrifice of your classmates will bring the noon we all desire. To our sons and daughters, wherever they are, we pledge loyalty, fortitude, sacrifice—life itself. The spirit of your classmates, as shown in a letter written by one of your number requires such a pledge.
I have been sitting here tonight thinking of you, where you are, and me, where I am, and why all this is.
In a few short days you will march up that line of trees that means so much to all of us,—that final march that means so much to your future, to my future, and to the future of our country.
At that same time part of me and of many of your classmates will be marching on a drill field, and this marching also means much to the future of our country.
Another part of us, your soldier-classmates, will be marching along that soft green turf along side of you, that part of us that remembers and holds sacred the things that the last four happy years have bred in our hearts, our minds, and very souls.
We are partners, you and I, in the greatest corporation in the world. We have a job. History will record your part of the job the most important, even though romantic fiction now records our part as being the important one.
Our job is destruction of evil, we hope, yours is one of building of good, we know.
All of us, no matter where we are, are today imbued with one hope, one dream, to make possible the building of a world where all men are brothers, equal in rights and opportunities,—a world where truth, justice, decency, and love are a rule of life, not an exception.
All this will not be if we fail as soldiers of democracy; all this will not be if you fail as teachers of democracy.
Today my wish for you is happiness and all that word means to you; and love—for you and from you-to the children to whom you will teach the truths men strive for and die for.
Today I am proud for you, proud of you, and proud that our lives have crossed.
Today I am with you and all of us who started out together in 1939, and for all that has been, I am humbly grateful. And for all of us, and because of all of us, I am filled with an unshakable hope that peace will come sooner and more lasting, and we will all meet together under a lane of trees, and a flag still proud!
To you who remain I bring a few words of encouragement and advice. You have completed your morning hours and the afternoon hours are yet to be. It is high noon for you with the possibility of midnight. Being High Noon, as another has said, "I dare the cynic to try his thoughts out in the noon sunshine that is without shadow." These are my thoughts which have been tried and I hope are without shadow.
First, "Ye are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its savour—it is henceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men."
You are the salt of the earth for you represent the best we have in America. You were selected for college by the state in the belief that you could contribute to the good of the state. You were given the opportunity to participate in the good life, because it was believed you could and would perpetuate and enhance the good life. It is hoped that you have grown "in wisdom, in stature and in favor with God and man." If you have, then you are the salt of the earth in potentialities. The morning hours have been spent, the afternoon hours are to be. If you lose your savour you are fit for nothing but to be trodden under foot, and that is midnight.
Second, Adjust without complaint.
This can be done if one listens well to the advice of Marcus Aurelius. "When the sovereign power within is true to nature it stands ready to adjust itself to every possibility and every chance that may befall. It does not set its affections on any determinate material, but keeps each impulse and preference conditional and subject to reservation. Obstacles encountered it converts into material for itself, just as fire lays hold of things on top of it, which would have choked a feeble light; for a blaze of fire at once assimilates all that is heaped on, consumes it, and derives new vigor from the process. Let no act be performed at random, or without philosophic consideration. Nowhere can man find retirement more peaceful and untroubled than in his own soul; specially he who hath such stores within that at a glance he straightway finds himself lapped in ease; meaning by ease good order in the soul, this and nothing else. Ever and anon grant yourself this retirement, and so renew yourself. Have at command thoughts, brief and elemental, yet effectual to shut out the world and all its ways, and to send you back unchafing to the tasks to which you must return."
This is especially necessary when as Archbishop Spellman says, "We are in the Gethsemane of civilization. Never before has there been anything comparable to the present efficiency in the destruction of human lives, in the upheaval of peoples, in misery and in devastation whose stains and ruins are inerasable."
Third, No matter how dark the night the sun will rise again.
When the sun goes down and darkness comes, we should remember that it has gone down to shine again on a fairer shore. It has been said by another that, "When it gets dark enough the stars come out." And so it is.
Without doubt many of you have suffered many hardships which never materialized. We all have had the experience of seeing a steep grade ahead. Doubt fills our hearts and we are afraid. We keep on our way, come to the steep grade and much to our surprise we successfully climb it. Life's highway is like that. We can successfully travel it if we understand that experiences are never as severe as our anticipation makes them. I give you, in support of my point the poem of John Kendrick Bangs.
Never Knew a Night So Black
I Never knew a night so black
Light failed to follow on its track.
I never knew a storm so gray
It failed to have its clearing day.
I never knew such bleak despair.
That there was not a rift, somewhere.
I never knew an hour so drear
Love could not fill it full of cheer!
Fourth, Out of the night, will come the lights of civilization again.
It is for this we struggle and fight. In our struggle there is danger that we impoverish our mind and soul. We prosecute a war to preserve our culture. In its prosecution we are in danger of losing our culture. There have been periods in the history of the world when we were at midnight, but because of individuals and institutions those things which make us more than beasts were preserved. We again face our midnight, but we must never lose sight of the objectives for which we struggle and fight. President Charles Seymour, of Yale University was right when he said, "Of what worth is freedom from want, if our minds be on a lower intellectual level; or freedom from fear if we have a less cultured life to defend; or freedom of speech if we have poorer thoughts to express; or freedom of religion if we bring a less enlightened faith to the worship of God?"
To you as graduates of our college is given the sacred trust of keeping burning the lights of civilization which eventually will turn night into day.
Fifth, Human life has worth as it is expended in the interest of others.
On first thought one would rate this statement as pure idealism and in the main it is. Yet all life, selfish and unselfish, must be expended in the interest of others. A businessman, professional man, tradesman, as well as teacher, minister and social worker must be concerned with others or he can not practice his profession or trade for selfish or unselfish ends. Our social organization is such that one can not divorce himself from the human units of that organization. We are so constituted intellectually that we need others to maintain mental poise, mental balance and mental completeness. Our spiritual make-ups are such as to require the expending of self to live happily and successfully. If then we are as we are, we better recognize these facts and build within our individual philosophies those elements we need to aid us in living as "sons of God" ought to live.
It is true that because man does not live up to the best that he knows, and does not always approximate the ideal, we lose faith and become cynical. To fall short of attaining
the ideal is not a sign of failure but an indication that man is Still man and that despair is not the end of such failure but rather the hope of achieving near-perfection,—for man arises after each fall and facing forward, climbs ever upward. We should tie to the good in men, which is always present if we have eyes that can see. An unknown author penned these lines which he titled:
I'll hold my candle high, and then
Perhaps I'll see the hearts of men
Above the sordidness of life,
Beyond the misunderstandings, strife.
Though many deeds that others do
Seem foolish, rash and sinful too,
Just who am I to criticize
What I perceive with my dull eyes?
I'll hold my candle high, and then,
Perhaps I'll see the hearts of men."
Sixth, Belief in a self that is higher and better than self.
It is necessary that one possess such a belief; if he would answer in the presence of midnight as did the following:
A boy in the Pacific, "I go with a clean conscience like a man—unafraid."
Commander Gilmore—who lay wounded on the deck of his submarine, refusing aid for he did not wish to endanger the lives of his men, gave the order, "Take her down!"
A victim of religious persecution who was being burned at the stake, "Master Gridley, a fire is being kindled today which will light all England."
O. O. McIntyre, newspaper columnist, to his wife just before he died, "Turn your face toward me so I can see you better."
William Cullen Bryant, in To a Waterfowl
"He who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way I must tread alone
Will lead my steps aright."
Abraham Lincoln: "I shall strive to do my best, this I aim to do until the end; if the end brings me out right then what may be said of me doesn't matter; if the end brings me out wrong ten angels swearing I was right will make no difference."
Tonight you swing out, which marks the beginning of the close of your college careers. You are leaving us for larger responsibilities. You are finished with the morning hours; it is now High Noon, the afternoon hours are yet to be. May the dreams you have dreamed in your morning hours, find realization in the hours that are to be.