Valedictorian speech of Carrie Johnson Burgess 1914
Four years ago last September, twenty-six of us entered High School as freshmen, all with the same ambition or aim, namely to graduate. We have all looked forward to this day, as we passed from one study to another, amid pleasures and disappointments, until we eleven have at last accomplished the great aim.
Shall we now when we have attained our ideal, stand still? Can we stand still for any length of time? Elbert Hubbart says “To stand still is to retreat”. We need only to recall the histories of Athens, Rome and Spain. In the third century A.D. the Roman Empire was at a stand-still, but that was only a sign of its decline, which we clearly see in the next century. On the other hand Napoleon and Caesar wanted to become masters of the world. They had a great ambition which they strove to realize and they were continually being spurred on by the same.
It becomes our duty then to create new ideals, and not only that, we must be conscious of the existence of such aims or ambitions. No person is without an ideal. One student working for a grade of 75, has that as an ideal, namely to attain a grade of passing. Another student may have a grade of 90 as his ideal, and he has achieved that. Still others seek for good times and fun, which are realized by attending movies, shows, and dances. Every five or ten cent pieces they can get must be spent for such momentary enjoyment. Then that is their ideal. Ideals are the motive power of our lives. By them we are guided and spurred onward from one victory to another or from defeat to victory. A person without an ideal is like a ship without a rudder, he has no guide, but aimlessly drifts about. They are the source of our progress and accomplishments, they goad us onward to action, they stimulate us to do our best. With an ideal clearly in mind we do not falter at slight disappointments, nor grieve when we realize our short comings; but they are only the steppingstones by which we are incited, and through them we come near to our ideal; instead of becoming dim, it becomes more visible. We cannot, we must not lose sight of our ideal.
Now if ideals are such an important factor in our lives, they should be chosen with the greatest care. What shall be the ambition which leads us onward; that guides us and molds our life and character? We distinguish three kids, the lower, average and highest.
In forming lower ideals the necessity is constantly thrown upon us of forming new ideals. They are not far enough in the distance, but are once too easily realized, the struggle is not fierce enough. The average is just between and to make our individual lives count for the most, we ought to create the highest ideals. There are a number of high ideals to form but we want to form that kind which will not only benefit us, but also help others. Most of us are satisfied with the easiest aim and chief among these is the desire for a station in life. Rurkin says “The idea foremost in the minds of the majority is to secure “advancement in life” which practically means becoming conspicuous in life, obtaining a position which shall be acknowledged by others to be respectable or honorable. We do not understand that mere making of money, but the being known to have made it, not the accomplishment of any great aim but the being seen to have accomplished it.” In a word we want praise and applause that is the stimulus of our toil and the balm of our repose. Leaving this another motive which prompts many to action is the desire for pleasure. The selfish satisfaction of our selves and the striving for money in order to gratify our desire for luxurious living and amusements. Luxuries which mean only the pampering of our bodies and the over-indulgence of our desire and appetite, soon lead to our destruction. No person , or any nation can long exist when its chief motive is the desire to gratify the cravings of the physical being.
“But pleasures like poppies are spread,
You seize the flower its bloom is shed
Or like the snow-falls in the river
A moment white then melts forever.”
To form the highest and noblest ideals, by which we wish to live, it is not necessary to continue our formal education. The greatest and most capable in any vocation are those who have started with the greatest aim, however “The aim if reached or not makes great the life.” We can decide to have as our ideal, not social position and wealth, but the unselfish giving of ourselves to our work and to those who need us. There is no greater aim that the giving of a life, than making the life of another more happy and less hard.
Are Rockefeller and Carnegie happier than Burbank and Edison, who have devoted their lives to the advancement of science, not to the acquisition of power, and wealth. We have long been under the illusion that the ability to make money is the test of successful life. However, if we could enter into the life of those who have acquired an immense fortune, we might see their regrets, and the real poverty of their existence, and the yearning for those things which money cannot but. They probably have lost the capacity of being true friends, their moral being has shrunk, so that they are unable to do the right when they see it, therefore they are no longer able to meet difficult conditions, which are the real measure of a man, for wealth is not.
It is not the easiest task in the world to live up to a high ideal and, never to lose sight of it. First we must believe firmly that our ideal can be realized, we must have faith in it, any wavering or hesitation may cost the loss of the aim. The realization of the goal of our ambition means also thaqt we must work for it hard, long, and often under difficulties. To be able to do this requires good health, firm purpose, strong will power, and an abounding amount of enthusiasm. The latter is especially important for amid disappointments and failures, an exact amount of optimism is necessary. If we cannot be enthusiastic for our ideal, we had better seek a new one.
Let us not think to achieve our aim, fulfill our purpose, without even having trials, without being sorely tempted and baffled. It is not worth much if we cannot lift ourselves out over these. Struggle we must and if we cherish our aim enough, such a strife will only tend to strengthen our ideal. Someone has said, “It is the hardest thing in the world to fight in the face of discouragements.” We shall become discouraged with ourselves, see our own failures and weaknesses; our friends and associates draw us away, we allow other things of the moment to interfere and so our ideal is veiled and becomes hazy. However, if we recognize these danger signals, we can steer clear of the rocks and so safely sail into the harbor of our ambition. Let us always remember when temptations assail us, when the outlook is dark and dreary.
“Above all things to thine own self be true,
And it follows as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”