Friday, May 3, 2013

Valedictory speech by Judson Clark, 1859

Judson Clark was the president of the Neosophic Society at Shimer in 1859, and as such it fell to him to deliver the valedictory address at the closing exercises of the fall term.  This speech, printed in the January 1860 number of the Seminary Bell, is the earliest Shimer student valedictory address known to survive.  Although not strictly a graduation speech, as Shimer had not yet begun to grant formal degrees, it has an obvious kinship to later works in that genre.

Man is the only being in the universe, whose happiness is incomplete, and who at the same time, is sensible that it is so; who is moved by a mysterious power which cause him to disdain his own imperfections and aspire to that which shall make him a nobler being.

Man is the only being who is possessed of the great solace of all pain, Faith and Hope. It is this peculiarity in his nature which enables him to look forth with fond anticipations into the future, and borrow if you please, enjoyment for the present. Man is the only being that can communicate his thoughts to his fellow associates, and whose greatest source of enjoyment is founded on intellectual and social intercourse. It is this which distinguishes him from the beast, and makes him the noble being that he is. And that these things are true, is one of the strongest proofs of the existence of an All-wise Creator, and of the immortality of the soul; for can it be, that beings, capable of contemplating all the works of creation; beings, capable of being moved by combined harmonies of sound; beings, capable of increasing in knowledge to an unlimited extent; beings, who are never satisfied with searching after truth in all the winding labyrinths and hidden recesses of nature; can it be, I say, that beings, possessing all these noble faculties, have no existance beyond the limits of the time which is allotted them here on earth? Hope is bestowed on us to cheer us on through the vicisitudes of life, and inspire us to act for the future. But Alas! this fanthom has proved the ruin of many. It is too common for us to allow the present to pass unimproved, and cling to those pleasures which future hopes afford.

Thus our youthful days are spent in idleness, and in old age we must lay down and die without the accomplishment of the great end for which our existence was designed.

How necessary, then, that we should all act for the present, ever bearing in mind that these precious opportunities will quickly pass, and that we must soon be numbered with the forgotten ones of earth; that soon others will take our places, who, like us, will be driven for a while in the whirl of time, then, like us, be lost in the shades of death. It is a view of this, my friends, that has brought us here to-night.

But for the knowledge we have of these truths, we should never have become members of that fountain head of learning, the Mt. Carroll Seminary. It is this which has prompted us to act. It is this which has aided us in becoming what we are. And now our exercises are about to close. We are aware they have been imperfect, perhaps, to an extent, which has rendered them disagreeable. But hope forbids our disponding and cheers us with the prospect of meeting with you again, when, by patient toil and unyielding effort, we shall have become better prepared to entertain you. We are grateful for the encouragement you have given us by your kind attention and apparent satisfaction. If we have wearied your patience, we hope you will excuse us. and now, to my classmates, those with whom it has been my happy lot to mingle in so many scenes of pleasure and social enjoyment, I would say a few words. In addressing you many thoughts present themselves, which it is beyond my power to express.

No friendship is purer than that which has arisen between us. A similarity of toil and trial, of hope and aspiration, of purpose and aim, has brought forth more fully that confidence and respect, which we cherish toward each other. Add to this the social example of our beloved teachers and who can wonder that we come to this closing exercise with sadness. When we leave this place, it will be to separate. True, the greater part of us expect to return, yet the little band can no longer remain unbroken. Some of those, with whom we have become united by the strong ties of friendship, are now about to leave us. Their familiar faces will be no longer seen in the class, and their voices will no longer mingle with ours in recitation. But so it is on earth, our associations here are but momentary. Time with its mighty hand, falls down and destroys the gay fabrics of youth, and the aged veteran, as he calls up in long review the many incidences of the past can but lift up his hoary head and weep as he realizes the absence of those with whom he spent his happiest days. The past has truly been a delightful term to us. Here we have sat, as it were, under our own vine and fig-tree. Here we have had the teachers of our choice, and here we have received their kind instruction. The sun, the moon, the stars in their course, and the storms and winds, have all witnessed our coming in and our going out, and all can testify that this has been both a profitable and an agreeable session. Youth is truly the intellectual seedtime of life; and so sure as this is true, so sure we shall reap the rewards of this term's culture.

And to whom can we attribute it but our kind teachers? Then, if there is a place for gratitude in the human heart, let incense be raised from that fountain to bless those who have toiled and suffered so much to make us wiser and happier. You, beloved teachers, will receive the assurance of our highest regards for your faithful and untiring service. We know your task is not an easy one.

In the midst of toil and weariness, we have marked the patience, and promptness, with which you have discharged each duty. You have borne with our childishness and waywardness. The attachment between teacher and pupil has in nose case been more strong than the present.

And now I would say a word to those who are about to leave us. There is a power in social life which seems to wrap itself around each human heart and guide its aspirations, until it becomes what others are around it. Unconsciously we partake of the spirit of those with whom we associate, until their habits become our own. From this cause, many young persons have left the kindlier influence of parents and teachers, with noble purpose and lofty aspiration, but by mingling with those of a vicious and impure disposition, those noble purposes have become blighted, and in their stead, have rankly grown the noxious weeds which have brought forth but the fruitage of poison and death. Guard well, then, your association in life, and when other faces shall greet you, when your minds shall have become engrossed with other cares, let your visions and meditations reach back to our present enjoyments and to those who have been your associates and willing assistants in preparing to act well your parts in the great battle of life. And now to all: you who have shown the interest you feel in our success, by thronging to witness our exercises; you, our patrons, to whom we feel so highly indebted; you, our beloved teachers whom we shall never forget, but cherish in warm remembrance; and you, our classmates, with whom we have passed so many both sad and joyful scenes, and with whom we are now to part, perhaps, never more to meet, till the shades of earth have fled away, and in another world, we are gathered to hymn the praises of our Creator; to you all we would extend the parting hand, and bid a fond and lingering adieu.

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