Friday, October 14, 2005

that's my kind of student

Noah Riner, student assembly president from Dartmouth College, delivered the following speech to incoming freshmen last month. Three cheers for Noah. I might also mention that Noah was homeschooled and part of his curriculm included the "Secrets of Great Communicators" from the Meyers Institute. You can read about the huge firestorm this great speech created here.

You've been told that you are a special class. A quick look
at the statistics confirms that claim: quite simply, you are
the smartest and most diverse group of freshmen to set foot
on the Dartmouth campus. You have more potential than all of
the other classes. You really are special.

But it isn't enough to be special. It isn't enough to be
talented, to be beautiful, to be smart. Generations of amazing
students have come before you, and have sat in your seats.
Some have been good, some have been bad. All have been special.

In fact, there's quite a long list of very special, very
corrupt people who have graduated from Dartmouth. William
Walter Remington, Class of 1939, started out as a Boy Scout
and a choirboy and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He ended up as
a Soviet spy, was convicted of perjury and beaten to death
in prison.

Daniel Mason '93 was just about to graduate from Boston
Medical School when he shot two men--killing one--after a
parking dispute.

Just a few weeks ago, I read in the D about PJ Halas, Class
of 1998. His great uncle George founded the Chicago Bears,
and PJ lived up to the family name, co-captaining the
basketball team his senior year at Dartmouth and coaching
at a high school team following graduation. He was also a
history teacher, and, this summer, he was arrested for
sexually assualting a 15-year-old student.

These stories demonstrate that it takes more than a
Dartmouth degree to build character.

As former Dartmouth President John Sloan Dickey said, at
Dartmouth our business is learning. And I'll have to agree
with the motto of Faber College, featured in the movie
Animal House, "Knowledge is Good." But if all we get from
this place is knowledge, we've missed something. There's
one subject that you won't learn about in class, one topic
that orientation didn't cover, and that your UGA won't
mention: character.

What is the purpose of our education? Why are we at

Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

But education which stops with efficiency may prove the
greatest menace to society.... We must remember that
intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus
character--that is the goal of true education."

We hear very little about character in our classrooms, yet,
as Dr. King suggests, the real problem in the world is not
a lack of education.

For example, in the past few weeks we've seen some pretty
revealing things happening on the Gulf Coast in the wake
of hurricane Katrina. We've seen acts of selfless heroism
and millions around the country have united to help the
refugees. On the other hand, we've been disgusted by the
looting, violence, and raping that took place even in the
supposed refuge areas. In a time of crisis and death,
people were paddling around in rafts, stealing TV's and
VCR's. How could Americans go so low?

My purpose in mentioning the horrible things done by certain
people on the Gulf Coast isn't to condemn just them; rather
it's to condemn all of us. Supposedly, character is what you
do when no one is looking, but I'm afraid to say all the
things I've done when no one was looking. Cheating, stealing,
lusting, you name it--How different are we? It's easy to say
that we've never gone that far: never stolen that much; never
lusted so much that we'd rape; and the people we've cheated,
they were rich anyway.

Let's be honest, the differences are in degree. We have the
same flaws as the individuals who pillaged New Orleans. Ours
haven't been given such free range, but they exist and are
part of us all the same.

The Times of London once asked readers for comments on what
was wrong with the world. British author, G. K. Chesterton
responded simply: "Dear Sir, I am."

Not many of us have the same clarity that Chesterton had.
Just days after Hurricane Katrina had ravaged the Gulf Coast,
politicians and pundits were distributing more blame than
aid. It's so easy to see the faults of others, but so
difficult to see our own. In the words of Cassius in
Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, "the fault, dear Brutus is not
in our stars but in ourselves."

Character has a lot to do with sacrifice, laying our personal
interests down for something bigger. The best example of this
is Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before his
crucifixion, Jesus prayed, "Father, if thou be willing,
remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine,
be done." He knew the right thing to do. He knew the cost
would be agonizing torture and death. He did it anyway.
That's character.

Jesus is a good example of character, but He's also much more
than that. He is the solution to flawed people like corrupt
Dartmouth alums, looters, and me.

It's so easy to focus on the defects of others and ignore
my own. But I need saving as much as they do.

Jesus' message of redemption is simple. People are imperfect,
and there are consequences for our actions. He gave His life
for our sin so that we wouldn't have to bear the penalty of
the law; so we could see love. The problem is me; the
solution is God's love: Jesus on the cross, for us.

In the words of Bono:

[I]f only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would
be transformed....When I look at the Cross of Christ, what
I see up there is all my s—- and everybody else's. So I ask
myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this
man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a
religious nut? And there it is, and that's the question.

You want the best undergraduate education in the world, and
you've come to the right place to get that. But there's more
to college than achievement. With Martin Luther King, we must
dream of a nation--and a college--where people are not judged
by the superficial, "but by the content of their character."

Thus, as you begin your four years here, you've got to come
to some conclusions about your own character because you won't
get it by just going to class. What is the content of your
character? Who are you? And how will you become what you need
to be?


At 7:57 PM, Anonymous David said...

Wow. What a speech. Kudos to Noah!


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