Randy Holland '69
President Hungerford, distinguished faculty, honorees and members of the Class of 2015.
This day represents the culmination of years of effort and sacrifice by the graduates and often on the part of your families, loved ones and friends. Congratulations to each of you and all of your supporters.
This honorary degree is extremely meaningful to me and a recognition that I will cherish forever. My parents did not finish high school and could not afford to send me to college. Swarthmore gave me a full scholarship. The opportunity not just to attend college, but to go to what was and still is the best liberal arts college in the United States, had a profound influence on my life. The seniors have experienced that influence already and it will continue in ways you cannot imagine. Just like all of you, today I thank everyone who had confidence in me.
Many years ago, another jurist, Joseph Story, gave a graduation speech entitled the “Gathered Wisdom of a Thousand Years.” Time will not permit me to even summarize those remarks. Instead, I will make four points of my own.
My first point does begin 800 years ago—in 1215. In two weeks, on June 15, we will celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. That document is the most venerable symbol of the rule of law in the world. The hero of that story is William Marshal, the first Earl of Pembroke. If you watched the Da Vinci Code movie starring Tom Hanks, you saw Marshal’s effigy on the floor of the Temple Church. Under Marshal’s leadership, 25 barons forced the tyrannical King John to acknowledge in writing that even he was subordinate to the rule of law. The fundamental individual rights and liberties set forth in the United States Constitution can be traced to Magna Carta: for example, trial by jury, no unreasonable search or seizure, habeas corpus, due process, and equal protection.
Tyranny did not end with King John. But for centuries, men and women, like William Marshal, have taken a stand for justice. When I entered Swarthmore College as a freshmen 50 years ago this September, Martin Luther King had recently led members of the civil rights movement across the bridge in Selma, Alabama. That struggle was supported by Swarthmore students and faculty during and after my tenure here.
As we gather today in the shadow the Clothier bell tower, I am reminded of the poet John Donne and the chapel bell at Lincoln’s Inn in London, where trial lawyers are trained and later practice. For centuries, it has been the custom to toll the bell when news of the death of a lawyer was received. Over the ages, other lawyers heard the bell and sent messengers to find out who had died.
This custom has been traced back to the days when Dr. John Donne was Preacher to Lincoln’s Inn. John Donne wrote his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions in 1624. In one of those devotions, he wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
As one death diminishes us all, so does each individual injustice. One of Yeats’ poems referred to a period of tyranny as a time “when the best lacked all conviction” and “the worst were full of passionate intensity.” Michael Oakeshott poignantly observed that, “nothing survives in this world that is not cared for by human beings.”
My first point is this: the bell tolls for all of us to speak out against injustice, to make a positive difference in preserving the fundamental principles of individual liberty, and to uphold the rule of law.
My second point involves a stone mason. When each of us is busily engaged in our daily work, we must not let focusing on an individual task blur our vision of the purpose of the process. That is why I am reminded of a person who visited a construction site and asked three stone masons what they were doing. The first said he was earning a living. The second said he was setting stone. The third said he was building a cathedral.
Each day you will earn a living by performing multiple tasks. When you are involved in the routine activities of your calling or vocation, it is important to remember what might be called the “big picture.”
I recently heard someone suggest a logical progression for putting our daily activities into perspective. The speaker submitted the following thesis: individual acts become habits, habits reflect patterns, patterns reveal character, and character determines a person’s destiny.
My second point is: whatever you chose to do in life, it will always have a higher purpose; keep that as your daily focus.
My third point is made by a bridge builder. It comes from a poem by the same name. One cold and gray evening, an old man was walking down a lonely highway. He encountered a chasm that was deep and wide with a flowing stream. It was no problem for him to cross. When he reached the other side, however, he built a bridge back over the stream. I will continue the story by quoting from the poem:
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting strength in building here.
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build you the bridge at eventide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head.
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.”
- Will Allen Dromgoole
Today is a time to reflect upon all of those who built the bridges that enabled you to reach this graduation day. My third point is: as you go through life be a bridge builder for others.
My last point is made by a wood cutter. Imagine that you encounter someone in the woods who is working feverishly to saw down a tree.
“What are you doing?” you ask.
“Can’t you see” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”
“You look exhausted!...How long have you been at it?”
“Over five hours,” is the reply, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”
“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you ask. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”
“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” is the answer. “I’m too busy sawing!”
This story appears in the well-known book by Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. “Habit 7 is taking time to sharpen the saw. It surrounds the other habits of the Seven Habits paradigm because it is the habit that makes all the others possible.” Habit 7 is personal. According to Covey, “its preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have—you.” It involves renewing the important dimensions of our nature. As Covey notes, no one can sharpen the saw for us. “We must do it for ourselves.” My final point is: take time to sharpen your own saw.
In summary, I encourage you to:
(1) Be a positive force for justice
(2) Stay focused on the higher purpose of what you do
(3) Build a bridge for those who will follow you and
(4) Take time to renew yourself—sharpen your own saw
I hope that you will consider making one or more of these four points personal habits. Congratulations and best wishes to the Class of 2015.