Cowan, Emily R. Valedictorian address (June 4, 1889)
"No endeavor is in vain, its reward is in the doing."
A rapid glance over the history of the past will suffice to give innumerable deeds, each having in the breast of its doer, its antecedent motive. Different have been the acts, the motives too have varied. Long has been the search after happiness. Many have been the precious lives sacrificed on ambitionís altar. But while many lives have thus been wasted, numbers have blessed future generations with their discoveries, inventions and improvements, but most of all by the example of their lives well spent. Of inestimable value to the world have been the discoveries of Franklin, Herschel and Copernicus. For another very different walk of life is the illustrious name of Florence Nightingale. And in later times in our own country is that of Helen Hunt Jackson, a woman who through deep affliction seeing the selfishness of her past life, has set an example worthy of imitation by anyone longing for a part in the work of making the world better. In every age, in every climb there have been deeds whose very recital rouses to higher aims. "The pen has indeed proven mightier than the sword"; no book was ever written but had its influence somewhere. In the world of literature men and women have left the impress of their characters that will live as long as there is an intelligent being left to be influenced by them. For ages poets have sung of their ideals of beauty and heroism; historians have related the deeds of the human family; sages have recorded for the benefit of future years. The results, it may be a whole lifetime of meditation. No book was ever written but its author had a definite purpose. It may not be that the desired end was accomplished, yet it has achieved something. The world may not give its praise until it heaps flowers on the grave but to the author comes the feeling that he has tried to help his fellow men and even if he dies in poverty and obscurity, be sure he has not lost his reward. Milton must have had a deeper pleasure in contemplating the creations of his own pen than it was possible for anyone else to feel. Even Virgilís endeavor to preserve the customs and mythology of his countrymen has not proved valueless. Shakespeare, though honored more in the years after his work was all done, came to realize as he enjoyed the comforts of a home earned by his own work, that he had not labored for naught. And our own beloved poet lived out in his everyday life the sentiment of his own words. "The lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime." While there can be only one Longfellow, one Milton, one Shakespeare, there is room in the world for more great men and women than there ever have been. It has been said that Charlotte Bronte had the feeling even in childhood that she was to be somebody in life. Why may not everyone not only have this feeling but live it out as nobly as she has done? Everyone is not a genius but everyone has at least one talent, be it ever so humble and if he uses it right there is no limit to the good he can do. Everyone cannot go to the front of the battle of life, but there are places for everyone. There are duties which sometimes to the weary one seem very trivial but it is certain each has his own share of work for the Master and no one can do that particular deed for him, or else that one would leave his own work undone. There is too much yet to be done for anyone to be idle. Life is made up of little things and who can dare to call insignificant what has fallen to his lot to do. Who does not know of someone who does day after day the little things, the next things with all his might? Who can be more loved, honored and respected than such an one? The sooner one finds his own particular duty and place, the happier he will be and the more good will be accomplished in the world. Although the failure that teaches one that he was not intended for that vocation in life is a blessing in disguise, yet one attempt should not determine the afterlife. Each failure should be only an incentive to better effort. How many of the illustrious writers in all ages have made a complete failure in their first work and it may be that only after repeated effort they have succeeded. Be not afraid "to do with your might what your hand finds to do," but think of Francis Riddley Havergalís desire "Grant me with loving hand to bring refreshment to his weary ones." Although one may never sway thousands by his pen, he is daily, inconspicuously it may be, using that mightier weapon influence. Great is the responsibility its use involves. "Life is earnest," therefore be somebody, do something in the world that will make it better for your having been in it. Have a fixed purpose in life and your influence will be of a great deal more weight. But the happiest and most useful place for woman yet is the home whence her influence goes out and out to what distant land, and generation, no man can estimate. To me has been allotted the tender but difficult task of bidding farewell. We deeply appreciate the interest shown us in the past and more particularly that manifested by your presence here tonight on this, to us, most eventful occasion. To our teachers and honored principal who, for years, have been so faithfully endeavoring to direct our footsteps in the paths of knowledge, we bid an affectionate farewell. Be assured that wherever our lot in life be cast, pleasant will be the memories of the days spent with you, and always will we feel the deepest interest in the welfare of our "Alma Mater." Classmates tonight we are together, as a class, for the last time. Our school days are over and we from this time onward must take our part in the battle of life. Widely may our pathways diverge but always will our hearts be drawn together by that peculiar tie which binds classmates to one another. For years we have been looking forward to this hour which links school life with lifeís school. Now as we look back at the past it is with regrets for opportunities unimproved and yet happy have been our school days. A glance into the future tells us we have each a place, each some work to do. Have we not taken to be our motto through life: Vestigia nulla retrorsum? No we must earnestly press forward, no standing still, no idle folding of the hands awaiting some uncertain destiny which fancy has gilded all over with hopes, which deceive, and bliss, that can never be realized. Let us put our hands to the work nearest us to do and do it with our might. The great Carlyle has said, "In all true work were it, but true hand labor there is something of divineness." And we know the Divine Human Hand made all work sacred from the wielding of the Carpenterís hammer to the washing of the disciples feet. May we not close our ears to the words, "The disciple is not above his master, ďGo thou and do likewise." We may not win plaudits from the world, but may it be ours to win the blessed commendation of the Master "She hath done what she could."
Emily R. Cowan
June 4th, 1889