Purdue News

May 7, 2005

Purdue President Martin C. Jischke made these comments during the commencement ceremony at University of Evansville

University of Evansville 2005 commencement speech

Good afternoon.

We are at an important moment, and I am certain its meaning is not lost on these very well-educated graduates.

It means that after all the work, all the study, the reading, exams, labs, papers, pressure, worry, late nighters, all-nighters, all-weekers, bad coffee, cold pizza – after all the urgent calls home for more money – there is now one last major obstacle between you and your diploma.

My speech.

I feel my popularity declining by the second.

Speaking as a university president who has been through this often, I can tell you there is no happier time on any campus than commencement.

It is a celebration of success.

It is a celebration of people.

And we have a great deal to celebrate today in these wonderful graduates from the University of Evansville.

All of us are very proud of what you have accomplished.

I am confident your education has prepared you very well for the great future that lies ahead.

And I do believe there is great hope for tomorrow.

I believe in the future because I know this generation of young people.

And I believe in you.

You have honored me enormously by inviting me to be here today to join in this celebration of your success.

Dr. Stephen Jennings and I have been friends and associates for many years going back to a time when we were both university presidents in the state of Iowa.

I have a great deal of admiration and respect for him.

I also have a deep commitment to outstanding private institutions such as the University of Evansville.

Higher education in our nation is greatly strengthened by its diversity of public and private opportunities.

Private universities have played a major role in the history of this nation and world.

And their importance will only increase in the years ahead.

Purdue has strong ties and shares a wonderful history with this part of Southern Indiana.

It began with a man.

It emerged from his dreams.

It is a bond that is built upon the greatest force for progress in the history of the world: the power of education.

Many of you have visited and some of you have worked and researched at nearby New Harmony in Posey County.

The story of New Harmony is linked tightly to the history of Indiana and, in a larger sense, to the important role of education in the development of our nation.

Hard labor, solid work ethics, entrepreneurship – all of these helped to make this country the strong nation that it is today.

But at the heart of America's limitless potential for greatness is education.

We think of the United States today as the land of promise and opportunity.

And it is.

But education, the cornerstone of promise and opportunity, has not always been within the grasp of common men and women.

Our founders put no mention of education in the Bill of Rights.

When this nation was founded, educational opportunities were limited.

Higher education was reserved mainly for the wealthy and the elite and overwhelmingly for men.

The real promise and opportunity that are the hallmarks of this nation emerged from a consensus that grew among the people.

It was a consensus based on the principle that if all people truly are created equal with certain inalienable rights then among those rights must be education.

Opening the doors of learning to all people provided the spark this young American republic most needed to flourish.

Nineteenth-century writer James Russell Lowell commented: "It was in making education not only common to all, but in some sense compulsory on all, that the destiny of America was settled."

One of the places where this destiny was settled was New Harmony, Indiana.

Harmony, as it was first known, was founded 1814 by the Harmony Society under George Rapp.

In 1825 the Harmonists sold their holdings to a man named Robert Owen.

Owen was a British industrialist who wanted to establish a cooperative, utopian society in what he renamed – New Harmony.

This was the age of utopian communities that were being built by people who had enormous dreams.

Robert Owen had amassed a fortune during the industrial revolution that swept and changed the early 19th century world.

That revolution brought new technology, new ideas, new possibilities.

It also brought horrific working conditions and a litany of social problems.

Owen believed there was a better way.

In early 19th century Great Britain in crowded cities where the poorest of the poor lived, parents sent their children to work in factories, where they sometimes were chained to the machinery.

Robert Owen believed the lives of these children and the life of his community in New Lanark, Scotland, could be immensely improved by opening the doors of education.

He instituted some of his ideas in New Lanark.

He met with some success.

He also met with some resistance.

And he came to believe that the ultimate answer to the problems he saw would be a new community in the new world.

Owen's New Harmony became a cultural and scientific center that attracted many noted scientists, educators, and writers.

William Maclure, president of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia was among those who arrived at New Harmony on what came to be called "The Boatload of Knowledge."

Maclure became the "father" of American geology.

Try to imagine this intellectual center of new ideas and potentials that was forming here in the wilderness of early 19th century Indiana.

Abraham Lincoln wrote about what is now nearby Spencer County, Indiana, where his family settled in 1816.

He said: "It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods."

In 1825 when Robert Owen was attracting intellectuals to his new community forming new ideas about education, Abraham Lincoln was a 16-year-old boy less than 75 miles away, struggling to get a lifetime total of about one year's worth of education at what he termed "so called" schools.

By 1828 the utopian community Owen had dreamed and inspired ceased to exist.

But the town went on. The dreams went on.

Sowing the seeds that Robert Owen planted, New Harmony became home to the nation's first kindergarten, the nation's first free public school, the nation's first free library, and the first school with equal education for boys and girls!

Those are powerful accomplishments in one small community — accomplishments that would play an important role in helping to build America into an educational beacon for the world.

Robert Owen returned to Britain, where he continued his efforts and died in 1858.

His was an incredible life of service.

Though Owen returned to his native land, five of his children – four sons and one daughter – settled permanently in this new world.

His sons were Robert, David, Richard and William.

William died at the age of 40.

Robert served in the Indiana General Assembly and the United States Congress.

He introduced the bill to create the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. – a great center of learning.

He was an advocate for African Americans, labored to secure property rights for women — and was a key figure in designing and implementing public education in Indiana.

The next son, David Owen, became state geologist for Indiana, Kentucky and Arkansas and finally head of the United States Geological Survey.

The fourth son was Richard Owen.

Richard was also a scientist and became Indiana State Geologist upon the death of his brother.

Richard was also a military officer and served in the Mexican and Civil wars.

But his real vocation — his real avocation — was education.

For fifteen years he was a professor of natural sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Richard Owen is my link to this part of southern Indiana.

In 1872 Richard Owen became the first President of Purdue University.

Today, I am the 10th President of Purdue.

Only eight people stand between me and Richard Owen, – who was brought to this nation and to this state by the lofty dreams for education that molded and ultimately drove the life of his father.

Look down the row where you sit.

Count eight people.

Sitting here today at one of our nation's finest private universities — think about how far the power of education has taken our people, our state and country — in so short a period of time.

Indiana and most especially this part of Southern Indiana — has played an important role in creating within the United States the finest system of higher education in the world.

It is interesting to note that Richard Owen continued to serve on the faculty at Indiana University while he was President of Purdue.

Both Purdue and Indiana University have a hall named for Richard Owen.

There is a statue of Richard Owen proudly on display in the Indiana University Union — and his bust is in the Purdue Union.

I am aware of no other individual who is so greatly honored at both Purdue and IU.

That speaks volumes about his impact on education in our state and nation.

The descendents of the Owen family are still involved in New Harmony today.

This past month Jane Owen, the wife of Kenneth Owen — great grandson of Richard Owen — celebrated her 90th birthday.

She is still vigorously at work nurturing the Owen vision.

You graduates who are moving on with your lives today are the answer to the dreams of Robert Owen and his descendents.

You are the answer to your parents' dreams.

You are the pride of all of us in higher education — and the answer to our dreams for a better tomorrow.

But most important of all — are your own dreams.

I encourage you to dream big — and to work very hard to make all your dreams come true.

Don't believe anyone who tells you that what you want to accomplish is impossible.

The great technological progress of the 20th century was built on impossible dreams.

Rocket pioneer Robert

Goddard said: "It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dreams of yesterday — are the hopes of today, and the realities of tomorrow."

You are the ones who will carry the seeming impossible dreams of today into the realities of the future.

It is my hope today that your dreams are about more than yourselves.

Our nation and world need people like Robert Owen and his descendants, people who use their education not only for their own personal gain, but to help others as well.

Like Robert Owen, we live in a time of great technological advancement and change.

There will be great benefits from all of the exciting progress that lies ahead.

But hardships will be created as well.

You will be needed to come forward to serve your community and your neighbors in many ways.

All of the people who share the dreams for education of Robert Owen and his family are very proud of you today, indeed.

You do not go forth into a utopian world.

But I believe that thanks to the world-class education you have received you have the power within you to make it a far better one.

Western Novelist Louis L'Amour said: "There will come a time when you believe everything is finished.

"That will be the beginning. "

This day is not an ending.

Welcome to the commencement of the rest of your lives.


And thank you.


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