Convocation 2013 Address: President Daniel R. Porterfield

  • Convocation 2013 F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield (Photo by Melissa Hess)

Below is the Convocation address, as prepared for delivery by F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D., on August 27, 2013, at the Alumni Sports & Fitness Center.

Defining Moments

Today, as searchers and scholars, committed to high purposes, we come together at an iconic college forged 226 years ago in the glowing embers of a new democracy.

And, indeed, we all have a great deal for which to give thanks.   

In a world where two billion people live on less than two dollars per day, this year, each of us will enjoy countless opportunities to develop our ideas, deploy our talents, determine our futures, and learn from one another. 

And we can enjoy this wealth of intellectual freedom -- this community of reciprocity -- because of great giving ancestors who paved the way.

We give thanks to those giants in our families, who gave us love; those giants of this College, who gave us learning; those giants of this country, who gave us liberty; and we thank the everyday giants of each generation who worked and walked and thought and taught and fought and changed when that was needed in order to spread freedom near and far and make this land a still more perfect union.

This week, all across the country, we reverently celebrate the anniversary of a quintessentially American act of democratic love: the 1963 March on Washington. 

Fifty years ago today, 200,000 travellers of all ages – many, like my father, were your age -- came to the nation’s capital by bus and train and mule-drawn carts, from south and north, east and west – all in peaceful protest, hopeful and undeterred, with minds stayed on freedom, boldly committed to civil rights, human rights and the ideals of America.  

And fifty years ago tomorrow, those travellers heard from Dr. King words that are both time-bound and timeless, for one nation and all nations -- prophetic words that have rolled like tears across the years to waiting ears from the school rooms of America to the rock quarries of Robben Island to the teach-ins of Tiananmen Square. 

That speech raised hearts and changed minds and now stands as a point of no return in the progression of America away from legal, societal and institutional racism – a journey, indeed, that we have not completed and cannot say is done unless each of us puts our minds and hearts in motion for change.

New students, you too have reached a point of no return as you begin the intellectual and personal journeys of these years.

A great faculty and worthy peers await you. If you consistently do your best in everything you try, you will grow, you will change, you will become.

And because Franklin & Marshall College educates students to live life, and not just to make livings, we know that fifty years from tomorrow, on the 100th anniversary of Dr. King’s ringing dream, you will still be growing, changing, developing human beings. 

In honor of this defining moment in your lives, and this defining anniversary for American democracy and global humanity, we will invite you to hear anew some of the ennobling ideas from Dr. King’s address. 

And then we will invite you to hear the reflections of three members of our community – a stellar student, a decorated professor, and an extraordinary alumnus – as they welcome you into the education of a lifetime.  I’ll introduce the speakers one at a time, but now let us hear the words of Dr. King:


"We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time."

"Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.' [Applause]"

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