Baccalaureate address at the University of the state of Alabama, Speech

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Baccalaureate address, delivered August 11, 1834, at the third annual commencement of the University of the state of Alabama

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Young Gentlemen of the Graduating Class,

 By the kind providence of that Being, who never slumbers, we are brought to the close of another College year : — and I now appear before you to give you the parting hand, and to bid you God speed in the way that lies before you.  

 It cannot have escaped your observation, that youth especially are prone to indulge in the illusions of hope ; — prone to lend a wiUing ear to every whisper of fancy, and to imagine that the brightest visions of bliss now flitting before them will be speedily followed by the fulness of fruition. With this natural proneness you may sometimes have seen associated a self-confidence, which .spurns restraint, which disposes its possessor to think himself too wise to learn, too knowing to take advice, and which is the precursor of an early downfall. You all, no doubt, have learned this lesson, that the counsels of a Mentor are most needed when least desired. Could youth be induced to seek and to heed the counsels of friendship and of maturer years, they might in a measure supply the want of experience, escape many a danger, and avoid many a sad disappointment. Whatever may be the event, it is the duty of every parent and every teacher, to give such counsels, and to accompany them with the earnest prayer that they may exert a salutary influence on the future destiny of those committed to his charge.  

ADDRESS.

 Young Gentlemen of the Graduating Class,

 By the kind providence of that Being, who never slumbers, we are brought to the close of another College year : — and I now appear before you to give you the parting hand, and to bid you God speed in the way that lies before you.  

 It cannot have escaped your observation, that youth especially are prone to indulge in the illusions of hope ; — prone to lend a wiUing ear to every whisper of fancy, and to imagine that the brightest visions of bliss now flitting before them will be speedily followed by the fulness of fruition. With this natural proneness you may sometimes have seen associated a self-confidence, which .spurns restraint, which disposes its possessor to think himself too wise to learn, too knowing to take advice, and which is the precursor of an early downfall. You all, no doubt, have learned this lesson, that the counsels of a Mentor are most needed when least desired. Could youth be induced to seek and to heed the counsels of friendship and of maturer years, they might in a measure supply the want of experience, escape many a danger, and avoid many a sad disappointment. Whatever may be the event, it is the duty of every parent and every teacher, to give such counsels, and to accompany them with the earnest prayer that they may exert a salutary influence on the future destiny of those committed to his charge.  

 Much of your future comfort and usefulness will depend upon a right choice of the profession or pursuit which is to engage your attention through subsequent life. Should you make a mistake here, the consequences will be disastrous not only to yourselves, but to those with whom you may be associated. But if you wisely select a calling for which you are fitted by your natural talents and temperament, by your habits, by your intellectual attainments, and, above all, by your moral qualities, you may safely promise yourselves an honorable and a successful career. At least, if you fail, the fault will be in yourselves; the fault will be, that you do not put forth those exertions without which a man will not and cannot succeed in any undertaking.

 Before you determine, then, on the choice of a pursuit? study well your own character. Consider not only in what you excel, but in what you are deficient ; not only what you can do, but what you can endure. Look not only to the strong but to the weak points of your character. Remember that in whatever sphere you may move, your Creator has destined you to undergo a moral discipline ; that your integrity is to be tried, and all your moral virtues are to be tested, again and again.  

 Compare, then, the advantages and the disadvantages of any calling which invites your attention. Consider the labors which you will have to perform, and the temptations you will have to resist. Look not only to the emoluments of the calling, but to the opportunities of usefulness which that calling may afford you. In short, select that vocation for life, in which you will probably be able to combine the greatest amount of personal virtue and of personal enjoyment, with the greatest amount of usefulness to your fellow men.

 Do any of you propose to embark in the practice of the Law ? Weigh well the responsibilities which you assume. Remember you will be called to defend the personal rights, the property, the reputation, the lives of your fellow citizens. And should you prove yourselves worthy of the literary advantages which you have here enjoyed, you may be called to the Legislative Hall, to frame laws for the government of your state, perhaps of your country. The dearest interests of your fellow men may turn upon the extent and the accuracy of your legal attainments. Upon your professional eminence, the welfare of your countrymen may greatly depend. You may yet be called to act as the Judges of Constitutional Law ; and on your decisions may hang the liberties and the lives of your fellow men. Be not desirous, then, of obtaining speedy admission to the practice of such a profession ; but be mainly anxious that, when you are admitted, you shall be fully qualified to meet your high responsibilities ; and to take rank with the most eminent men of your profession. This is the profession which may be regarded as the high road to civil office and to civil honors. But, as you value your permanent reputation and usefulness, attempt not to purchase the offices in the gift of a free and enlightened people with any thing but sterling worth of character, a thorough knowledge of your profession, with untiring devotion to its duties, and unbending patriotic virtue. With these qualifications, your success in life may be pronounced morally certain. In fine, let me intreat you, as you value your peace in a future day, never sacrifice the immutable principles of rectitude for the sake of gain. Never strive, like Milton’s Belial, to

–make the worse appear

The better reason, to perplex and dash

Maturest counsels.”

 Consecrate your talents solely to the cause of innocence, of truth, of justice, and eternal right. Let your maxim ever be, ” Fiat jusiitia, mat cmlum.” In an English work, just issued from the American press, ” Dymond’s Essays on the Principles of Morality,” you will find a chapter on the Morality of Legal Practice, worthy your most attentive perusal.

 Do any of you propose to engage in the practice of Medicine ? Consider that the care of the health and the life of your fellow men, is a trust of no ordinary magnitude. Beware that that health and that life are never sacrificed through your ignorance or your inattention. Qualify yourselves, then, for the high duties of your calling, by private studies, by attendance on public lectures, by a close observation of all the phenomena of disease, and by combining the results of your own observation with the wisdom and experience of the ablest practitioners in the healing art.

 Investigate also the causes as well as the phenomena of disease ; that you may be able, not only to cure, but to prevent maladies ; and thus to render yourselves benefactors to your race. Examine well all those physical and moral causes which affect the health of individuals and of whole communities, that you may be able to decide how far those causes are to be removed by individual efforts, by municipal regulations, or by more general legislative enactments. Study well the physical constitution of man ; and make yourselves familiar with all those laws which govern a diseased or a healthy action of the human system. In a word, pursue this profession, not merely as a source of personal emolument, but as a means of usefulness to society. The Medical profession, when founded on an accurate knowledge of the complex nature of man, and pursued on broad and liberal principles, is a rational, noble profession. It contains within itself one of the most important elements of human happiness, that is, a sufficient amount of mental and bodily activity. It also opens a wide field for the exercise of the benevolent affections. The consciousness of laboring, and laboring successfully, to relieve distress and alleviate woe, must impart permanent gratification to the mind, and elevate a man in his own estimation, as well as in the estimation and gratitude of his fellow men.

 Should any of you, at any time, propose to enter upon the duties of the Christian Ministry, examine well the motives by which you are actuated to undertake an office of the most awful responsibility. Take heed that no selfish or sinister considerations sway your mind. Look not for those emoluments and those worldly honors, which are to be obtained in the other professions. For the reward of your toils, you must look mainly to your own breast, and to the retributions of a future world. Consider that the well-being of your fellow men, not only for this life, but for that life which shall never end, is at stake ; that on your fidelity eternal consequences may be suspended.

 Spare no pains, then, to prepare yourselves for this high vocation by useful knowledge, by a diligent study of the Book of God, by eminent piety, and, above all, by seeking constantly the guidance and blessing of the great Eternal. Fix on a lofty standard for your attainments and for your efforts. In a profession which involves the destinies of man, not only in this but in another world, all the learning of a Paul, and all the eloquence of an Apollos, you will find not too much ; and you will find it all infinitely too little, without the special benediction of Almighty God resting upon your labors.

 Do any of you propose to engage in the profession of Teaching ? Imagine not that inferior talents and inferior attainments are sufficient for the duties of this calling. Do we require skill and experience in those who propose to take care of the health of the body, and are less skill and experience necessary in those who undertake to watch over the health and the growth of the mind ? Does an intelligent parent seek to employ in his service mechanics and artisans who understand well the business which they profess, and will he give the formation of the minds of his children into the hands of ignorant, of prejudiced, or of unprincipled men ? There is, indeed, reason to fear that many parents are not sufficiently impressed with the vast importance of this subject ; that they do not see how much their own comfort and happiness, and how much the comfort and happiness and usefulness of their children, depend on the character of those to whom their education is committed. Hence teachers are often employed without sufficient regard to their literary and moral qualifications.  

 Is there not also reason to fear that the importance of this subject to the welfare of our country is often overlooked ? If it be acknowledged that intelligence and virtue are essential to the permanent prosperity of a republic, what can be more important to the welfare of our beloved country, than the instruction of the rising generation ? This, then, is the profession, which, in these United States, ought to enlist and employ the highest order of intellect, and the highest attainments in literary and moral excellence. If it be better for individuals and for society to prevent crime than to punish it, then is that office of the very first importance, which requires a man, in the discharge of its duties, to enlighten the youthful mind and to inculcate a love of virtue and an abhorrence of vice.  

 While this office is wholly unknown, or lightly esteemed among the more barbarous nations, it is held in the highest veneration among the enlightened. In the brightest days of the glory of Greece, you find the instructers of her youth ranked among the illustrious, the revered, and the honored men of the country. Go to the most polished nations of Europe at

 this day, and you find their philosophers and teachers associated with the great and the noble and the virtuous of the land. Indeed, you may judge of the progress which any community has made towards a state of general intelligence and high culture by the respect which they render to men of learning, and by the estimation in which they hold the office of an Instructer of youth.  

 It is believed, that there is at this time, in our country, a call for an additional number of well qualified teachers ; and that the time is at hand when the labors of such teachers will be duly appreciated and liberally remunerated. Should any of you, then, engage in this profession, act in a manner worthy of its dignity and importance. Acquaint yourselves with all the improved methods of teaching. Review carefully and extend your knowledge of Mental Science. This science is the foundation of the Art of Teaching : and a man ignorant of this science, will inevitably fail as a teacher. You know that the phenomena of the mind are regulated by certain fixed laws, as much as are the phenomena of the material universe ; and that it is only by understanding these laws, and acting in accordance with them, that the mind can be successfully educated. You know that we cannot arbitrarily introduce ideas into our own minds ; — that they are introduced according to those laws of suggestion which regulate the succession of thought. You know that we cannot force our own opinions or our own behef ; — that these must be the result of facts and of evidence presented to the mind. Much less, then, can we extend such arbitrary power over the minds of others. Avail yourselves, also, of the experience of those who have gone before you. And from your own daily experience and observation, add something to the general stock of improvement in the method of teaching. In a word, as your profession is inferior to none in dignity and value to the community, let it be inferior to none in the ability and untiring fidelity with which its duties are discharged.

 Do any of you propose to become Civil Engineers ? It is an employment of great and growing importance to our wide-spread and prosperous republic ; and an employment in which mechanical genius and scientific attainments may secure for their possessor ample rewards. The vast and fertile valley of the Mississippi, from the Lake of the Woods to the Gulf ol’ Mexico, and from the Alleghany to the Rocky Mountains, is yet to be intersected with rail-roads and canals, giving facility of transportation to all the varied fruits of our own industry and to the productions of foreign climes. The construction of those works of internal improvement will call for bold enterprise and for mathematical talent. In erecting such works of public and general utility, an able engineer may at the same time build up his own fame and fortune, and identify his name with the prospeity and glory of his country.

 Read the story of the eminent English engineer, Brindley, and imitate his untiring perseverance under difficulties. The three thousand miles of British canal navigation, the production of the last seventy years, and all the additional prosperity which that navigation has given to the British nation, may be regard- ed as the fruits of the unconquerable genius of James Brindley.  

 But should you not engage in any of the professions already named, imagine not that the education which you have here received will be useless to you. There are many other pursuits in which knowledge, intelligence, and moral worth, are duly appreciated and amply rewarded.

 The fair merchant, who by honest gains acquires a livelihood for himself and family, does at the same time render a service to the community.  

 The industrious farmer, who by the sweat of his brow gets his daily bread, and who produces bread for the consumption of others, is a public benefactor. Of all employments, agriculture is the most indispensable, the most healthful, and the most independent. It is the employment in which the greater portion of the inhabitants of this country will always engage. This pursuit, by giving activity to the powers both of body and mind, by removing individuals from scenes of vice and sources of disease in the crowded city, by securing moderate, not enormous, gains, as the fruits of industry, is highly favorable to moral character and to mental enjoyment. This is the employment which is to furnish materials for the manufacturer, which is to produce articles for commerce, and to which mankind must look principally for the supply of their necessary wants. And there is little danger of its being crowded to excess, as is the case in most countries with what are peculiarly denominated the Professions. The author of a very recent English work, entitled ” England and America,” asserts that two thirds of the professional men in England live by snatching the bread out of each other’s mouths.

 Now the more general intelligence a farmer, or mechanic, or merchant, possesses, the better is he qualified to promote his own interests and the interests of that community in which he resides. Should he be called by his fellow citizens to fill some public office, will he not be able to do it with more satisfaction to himself, and with more benefit to the community, from his having enjoyed the advantages of education ? With such advantages, he will, even as a private citizen, be a more efficient and useful member of the body politic, in a country like ours, in which every man may participate in the affairs of the government.  

 In whatever employment, then, young gentlemen, you engage, you may find the education, which you have here received, of essential value. And never think it a degradation to engage in any employment by which 5^011 can be made comfortable and happy, and at the same time useful to society.  

 ” Honor and shame from no condition rise: Act well your part ; there all the honor lies.”  

Source Citation:

Woods, Alva. 1834. Baccalaureate address, delivered August 11, 1834, at the third annual commencement of the University of the state of Alabama. Tuscaloosa: Published by request of the Trustees. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009576359.

Cite this page:

Woods, Alva. 1834. "Baccalaureate address at the University of the state of Alabama, Speech." History of Higher Education. https://higheredhistory.gmu.edu/primary-sources/baccalaureate-address-at-the-university-of-the-state-of-alabama-speech/