It’s Not You, It’s Us: C.J. Donald ’14 [Honors Convo address]
C.J. Donald ’14 and Audrey Jenkins ’14 were the keynote speakers at the honors convocation held May 6. The speakers are selected by vote of the senior class. Their remarks are a highlight of the annual celebration of student achievements.
Donald is a government major who grew up in Memphis. He heads to law school at Vanderbilt University in the fall.
This year the two speakers also shared the Max P. Cavnes Prize, awarded to the best-loved and most-respected senior man and woman. The prize honors a revered and highly regarded professor of history and dean of men who retired in 1985.
It’s Not You, It’s Us
When I think about the Class of 2014, I realize that each of us is worthy of delivering this speech. Each of us has had Centre experiences that would make others laugh or cry. We have all had moments that would cause us to think and be grateful for what we have. This speech has been difficult to write because how am I supposed to impart words of wisdom and inspiration to the very people that inspire me? We’ve been together since August 25th of 2010 and whether we’ve been cheering on our sports teams, watching Macbeth, or procrastinating on that 20-page paper for Dr. Stroup’s Politics seminar—we’ve done these things together. For 1,351 days, we’ve done everything as one. So you’ll have to excuse me if my remarks make it sound as if we’re breaking up but the truth is, Centre Dear, it’s not you—it’s us.
It’s us, the 356 members of the senior class, that you, Centre College, welcomed with open arms on move-in day. It’s us who were allowed to play varsity lacrosse for the first time. It was this cohort that got a chance to use the renovated Young Hall for all four years. Together, we saw the Vienna Philharmonic, Blue Man Group, the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate, and the construction of a new residential commons in the span of about three years. And it’s us that the author of our alma mater was referring to as he put pen to paper. The Reverend Elwood Haines suggested that—at Centre—three important things happen:
1. We create eternal friendships,
2. We allow duty to be our beacon, and
3. We hold honor as our standard.
Centre, it’s the Class of 2014 that has experienced these things together and we are just confident enough to think that—of all the classes you’ve seen come and go—you’ll miss us the most after we leave this building for the last time together. Together.
So, for those of you that believe I’m a bit too guarded with my emotions, here’s my truth: it’s been hard for me to write this speech, order a cap and gown, and study for Dr. Axtell’s final exam, not because I’m lazy or inefficient but because I am truly nervous about leaving this place. To be honest, I’m a little disturbed regarding what lies ahead for us. The statistics tell us that Centre grads are uber-successful so I have no concern with respect to where we will get jobs or continue our academic and social conquests after we graduate; my anxiety is about the kind of people we might become in time.
Within the American consciousness, there is an increasingly annoying point of view that would have you believe in selfishness as a way of life. Pure Individualism is the mantra of those that are selfish, uncooperative, and just plain boring. Those that believe in this self-serving lifestyle would laugh at our unity. They would ridicule our altruistic goals. They’d tell us that those late nights spent in Pearl Hall doing the opposite of homework were worthless.
I’d tell them that I have to disagree. You should say the same because it was not worthless when we jogged to the steps of Old Centre at 5 a.m. just to watch the sunrise. It was not worthless when you spent the school year mentoring that fifth grader who still has questions about long division. It was not nothing when you spent countless hours on that athletic bus with spotty wI-fi as you traveled down Interstate 65 to crush Rhodes College for yet another sports victory. It was definitely worth it when you ran the Flame on Halloween. It was even more worth it when you did it again the next weekend. It was a relationship-defining moment when you sat with your professor discussing their faith and your fears . . . their failures, and your future. It was not nothing when President Roush stopped you on your way to the library to chat about your summer plans. It meant everything when we were studying abroad and my grandfather died and you sat with me as I cried in that Strasbourg apartment.
What people outside of this room may not understand is that we are a family. I don’t know about you but my mother told me that I had better never forget my home training. No matter where you were born, Centre is your home. Danville is our home. It would be improper for us to leave this place and forget how we’ve been trained. Just like I won’t forget my first home training from Memphis, I promise not to forget the second home training I’ve received here at Centre. The reasons we came to Centre are several but the reason we exit is singular: to do good works.
In thinking of the importance of our unity, I’m reminded of a story I once heard. An old man was on his deathbed and decided to call his three sons together for one last family meeting. Upon their arrival at the family home, the father stretched out a bundle of sticks and asked his eldest son to try to break the bundle. He pushed and pulled but could not snap the sticks. The father then asked the middle son to break the bundle. He used all of his might but he too failed to snap the sticks. Finally the father gave his youngest son a chance to break the bundle. In his youthful ignorance, he believed that he would succeed quickly. However, he too failed to snap the sticks.
The old father then smiled at his sons and said, “Children, do you understand what has happened? It is always easy to break the sticks one by one. But when they are bundled together, none of you could break them. In the same way, you should always stick together. Together, you will achieve much.”
The lesson of this family is the true lesson of our time as Centre College students and, ultimately, will be our story as citizens of a larger world. Together, we are strong. Divided, we will break.
If we leave Centre and allow ourselves to be consumed and broken by monotony and selfishness, we will be a disappointment to ourselves and to our home. If our concerns are profit and conceit instead of passion and community, we will certainly be betraying the honor bestowed upon us during our time here.
So what is the prescription for this potential problem? How can we stick together after our impending graduation?
We must, I believe, take up a principle of love, optimism, and laughter.
First, we must love without exception, help each other, and build community with those who need it most. Love others, and love yourself.
Second, we must have optimism. There will be difficult times ahead, but trust your journey. In the words of Abraham Heschel, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually.”
Lastly, we must not forget to laugh. Don’t forget to have fun. Do smile as much as possible. Do try to enjoy every moment.
By doing good things in our world, we offer Centre our loyalty. As we fulfill the intellectual, personal, and moral potential which Mother Centre has embedded in each of us, we remain a tightly-knit group, not in proximity, but in purpose.
by C.J. Donald