The following remarks were given by Crit Luallen ’74 on Jan. 16, 2019 during Centre College’s Founders Day Celebration, marking the College’s 200th anniversary.
[VIDEO] View the entire ceremony here.
Happy Birthday, Centre College! What an exciting day to join you here on campus as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Centre’s founding!
This is truly an historic milestone for this special place. Of the thousands of higher education institutions in the country, Centre is the 63rd oldest.
Centre College has not only survived, but prospered, through the many changes those twenty decades have brought. It hasn’t been easy. There were difficult challenges along the way, and there are difficult challenges ahead, but Centre today has secured its place among the finest liberal arts colleges in the nation.
Centre certainly had a profound impact on my life.
I arrived here in 1970 with a proud family pedigree and little else. I counted two Kentucky governors among my ancestors and deep Kentucky roots. But my father had died at the end of my junior year in high school after difficult health issues kept him an invalid for nearly 20 years—resulting in financial hardship and tremendous stress on my family. We were a family turned inward, focused on the problems, with little time to think beyond each day.
Centre, for me, became a window into the world of possibilities. The faculty here imparted more than knowledge of their subject areas. They showed by example the value of self-esteem. They demonstrated each day that a life built on excellence and service could leave an indelible mark on the lives of others.
So the value of the Centre experience has increased for me with each passing decade, and it will for you students in ways that you can’t foresee today.
What we should all feel today is tremendous pride in being part of an institution with such a rich history and such a promising future.
Centre was established in the earliest stages of Kentucky’s settlement and will now begin its third century of changing lives for the better. The school has spawned generations of leaders who have contributed in meaningful ways to Kentucky and the nation.
One of my ancestors was an early President of Centre, Reverend Gideon Blackburn. And I like to think of him as a 19th century John Roush, revered around the nation for his exemplary leadership skills at a highly respected academic institution. The reality is that this was the American frontier, and there were eight students here when Gideon Blackburn became president in 1827.
Prior to coming here, Gideon Blackburn had founded a school for Cherokee Indians in Georgia, where he taught for 15 years. He later went on to establish Blackburn College in Illinois, which is still in existence.
Though the Centre College we know today has no resemblance to that outpost in early Kentucky, at every stage of its development, each generation of Centre’s leadership shared the vision of a strong future for this College and laid the building blocks to secure that future.
Every student has been the beneficiary of Centre’s visionary, dedicated leadership.
When I graduated from Centre, I had no idea that my life would take the direction that it has. Now, today, I look back on a career that gave me the opportunity to work on every aspect of public policy with leaders in business, health care and education, as well as elected officials at every level.
It was my Centre experience that gave me the foundation for every step of my journey.
For me, it was a path in public service, where in each job I held, I drew satisfaction from knowing I was working to make a difference in the lives of others.
And that’s what sets Centre apart.
In addition to a sound educational foundation, graduates leave Centre with a solid moral compass and a commitment to make a difference in the world.
Mine is only a tiny part of the story that Centre alumni have written through the generations and the over 13,400 living alumni are still writing out in the world today.
The true Centre story over these 200 years lies in these stories of individual lives—lives of excellence, lives of integrity, lives given in service to others, worthwhile lives that have left the world a better place.
For many years, the College has proudly claimed that its alumni includes: two vice presidents, one Chief Justice and one Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, 13 U.S. Senators, 43 U.S. Representatives and 11 governors.
But the story is much richer than just that list of office holders, many of whom came from its earliest days.
Centre’s story is the story of names you have heard. But it is also the story of so many names you have not.
- Yes, it’s the story of Fred Vinson (Class of 1909), congressman and chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
- But it’s also the story of Dr. Andrea Beaton, class of 2001, who has received international recognition for establishing a national registry in Uganda to track children afflicted with heart disease caused by rheumatic fever.
- It’s the story of John Marshall Harlan (Class of 1850), who spent 34 years on the Supreme Court and wrote the famous dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, which had upheld “separate but equal” laws. Harlan wrote, “Our constitution is colorblind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.”
- And Centre’s story is Steve Hodges ’99, Centre Young Associate of the Year in 2009, a standout basketball player from Zimbabwe who founded an investment firm in Los Angeles, while also volunteering to improve opportunities for children in Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- And it’s the story of Ellida Fri ’47, an active community leader in Hawaii who founded two social service organizations dedicated to serving the needs of adolescent girls and runaways.
- Centre’s story is the story of John Sherman Cooper (Class of 1922), who represented Kentucky for more than two decades in the US Senate, where he was an early sponsor of civil rights legislation and one of the first to denounce Sen. Joe McCarthy’s anti-communist campaign.
- And it’s the story of Robb Nash ’83, who left a successful business career to become a nurse working with homeless and HIV/Aids populations.
- Centre’s story is the story of David Grissom, class of 1960, who, after a remarkably successful business career, created the Grissom Scholars program here for first-generation college students.
- And it’s the story of Kevin Chapman ’00, winner of the Young Alumnus award in 2015, who overcame a challenging upbringing to become a recognized expert on depression and anxiety disorders.
- It’s the story of Kate Bogle, class of 1905, who was the Army’s first female contract surgeon during World War I and advocated for equal pay and treatment of men and women in the US military.
- And it’s the story of Ray Burse ’73, a Rhodes Scholar and successful corporate attorney who was the first African-American alumnus to serve on Centre’s board of trustees and served with distinction as president of Kentucky State University.
- And Centre’s story is Peggy McDowell Curlin, class of ’62, who led an organization that supports women in more than 40 countries and became one of the leading voices in the world regarding issues of women’s rights and community development.
- It’s the story of Judge Pierce Lively ’43, who, as an Appeals Court judge, rendered nationally respected opinions on school desegregation, freedom of speech and separation of church and state. Judge Lively also served as a Centre trustee for nearly 64 years, the longest tenure in the College’s history.
The list goes on and on…
And yes, you could make a list of notable alumni for many institutions. But none can claim such a notable record of achievement for its size as Centre College.
This is Centre’s story…generations of remarkable individuals who built on the foundation they received here to become state and national leaders, to achieve success in business and public service, and to contribute in thousands of ways to the greater good of their communities and the world.
And for every name in the spotlight, hundreds more have lived, and are living, lives of great merit.
As you students form your future, you will be writing your own story—and the next chapter of Centre’s story.
According to a recent report from Pew Research, your generation will become the most diverse and the best educated American generation ever.
Centre’s evolution over its 200 years has followed the evolution of the nation. Those first Centre students, president and faculty were all white men.
Today’s student body reflects growing diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and geography. Our campus today is enriched by the infusion of international students from around the globe.
In recognition of this growing diversity, Centre’s board chair established a working group on diversity issues that met over the past year.
This past October, the trustees adopted a series of that group’s recommendations and a statement on diversity in which the Board pledges “continuing efforts to build and strengthen a community enriched by the differences of its members and founded upon our common humanity.”
Our common humanity. Those words resonate at a time when our country is so deeply polarized.
We have political differences that are increasingly fueling personal animosities.
And we have deep philosophical divides that are affecting progress on vital issues ranging from immigration to climate change, from race relations to foreign policy.
You students will be the generation tasked with healing those divisions.
It will require listening, understanding and respecting differing viewpoints and finding ways to move forward together.
Your time here, on this storied campus, in the presence of this remarkable faculty and staff, has prepared you to do that with civility and compassion.
It has prepared you for lives of leadership and service in whatever direction you may take. It will be up to each of you to determine how you will contribute to the greater good.
There are many ways we judge the success of institutions of higher education. But I would argue that, in the end, the true measure of Centre’s success lies in the quality of the lives that are lived—and the lives that are touched by its graduates.
As we celebrate this 200th anniversary of Centre’s founding, and remember proudly the generations that have gone before, it is time to turn our focus to the future.
I have confidence that you students will write the best stories yet—because you represent the world as it is today.
And you will leave here prepared to go out and make that world a better place.
by Crit Luallen ’75
January 16, 2019