Dr. Alexander, Dr.
McDowell, Mr. Hartburg, Mr. Higie, Dr. Stuckart, Dr. Panah, distinguished
members of the faculty, university administrators and staff, parents,
grandparents, step-parents, foster parents, aunts, uncles, children, friends
and supporters of all kinds, and most especially, the graduating class of this,
the 50th year of the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford:
has been my good fortune over the years to have spent some considerable time in
the American West – much of it on horseback. I have ridden into areas that were
far even from dirt roads.
afternoon I was riding with a young cowboy, looking for stray cattle. We were
riding through sagebrush up a wide valley between towering mountains. He didn’t
have much to say, but his eyes kept moving. At one point he stopped his horse
and looked across the valley and said “we’d better go get that one. He’s on the
wrong side of the fence.”
I looked in the
direction he was headed and could not see either the fence or the cow. He
finally pointed it out to me – a black dot – an Angus calf. I simply could not
believe he could see a calf that far away in the midst this vast open space.
did you see that,” I asked. He answered back over his shoulder, “Just looking
for what’s not supposed to be there.” Just looking, he said, for what’s not
supposed to be there.
I was overwhelmed with the scope of the country, taken by its beauty, its
colors, the white clouds, the smell of the sagebrush. And he took that all in
too, of course, but he knew the country so well, he cared for it so much, that
when something about it was wrong it to him it stuck out.
Just looking for
what’s not supposed to be there.
Some years ago I
spent time each summer with the elderly cousin of my elderly neighbor. The
cousin had grown up on the adjoining farm and moved on. He never went to
college, but retired after leading projects all over the world to build complex
oil refineries. In his later years, he returned to his roots each summer pulling
the travel trailer that was his home away from home.
He was one of
those people who in his retirement – in his 80s when I first knew him –took on
all manner of projects. He was a woodworker, a maker of fine jewelry boxes. He
was a jewelry maker, fashioning delicate earrings and bracelets, some
incorporating precious stones he cut and polished. He could repair a tractor,
use a chainsaw, prune an orchard, and pick more blackberries than any person I
have ever known.
One day I
consulted him about building a cupola to mount on the top of our barn. He said
he’d help and he explained the process to me. It was more a complex process than
I had imagined – there were a lot of angles to be figured out, and besides, the
mechanical arts constitute a significant gap in my skill set. Finally, he
turned to me and with some little impatience said, “look, all you gotta do is
do it.” All you have to do is do it. What he didn’t say, but didn’t have to,
was “but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.”
Two lessons. One
from a young man, and one from an old man.
Fifty years ago a
group of men and women in Bradford looked into the future. “The Founders” we
call them. They saw what wasn’t supposed to be there. They saw a lack of
educational opportunities for the young men and women in this region. They saw
dead ends for those in middle-age who had lost their jobs and needed additional
educational opportunities; they saw lack of opportunity for those who had
postponed their own education to advance those of their children’s.
They saw what
wasn’t supposed to be there and they decided to do something about it. The
timing, of course, was fortuitous. The University of Pittsburgh and its then
Chancellor, Edward Litchfield, was looking for opportunities to expand its
educational footprint over western Pennsylvania. But Bradford was not the only
spot interested in sprouting a regional campus. Other leaders in their communities
were also making a pitch.
But there was
something unique about the Bradford group, about those Founders. And what a
group it was. The Founders’ names may be familiar to you. Bert Fisher, of
Fisher Hall, was the President of Kendall, the predecessor to ARG. George
Blaisdell, of Blaisdell Hall, was the President and founder of Zippo, a man
interested in higher education who had himself never attended college, never
even graduated from high school. Robert Bromeley, of the Bromeley Family
Theater and Bromeley Quadrangle, who was an entrepreneur who, along with Lester
Edwards and Henry Satterwhite, known collectively as E S and B, poured money,
expertise and political connections into the effort. Ed and Tullah Hanley, of
the Hanley Library; Tom McDowell of that very fieldhouse; Dick Frame and Vic
Westerberg, of Frame-Westerberg Commons, who provided political clout; and
Donald Swarts, of Swarts Hall, UPB’s visionary first president, a man Dr.
Marvin Thomas has called the “right man at the right time.”
But in addition to
those Founders there were others, whose names are not so familiar to you -- those
who also contributed to the success of the initial campaign to raise the
$540,000 start-up fund. Some contributed through payroll deduction. Employees
of the old Bovaird and Seyfang, and Dresser; employees of Hanley and Co., and
Kendall and so many other businesses, large and small. Those contributions -- 25
and 50 dollars a piece – they added up. Those people, too, were the early
That effort has
continued on now for five decades.
Just recently I talked
to a student on this campus, a young woman of color, who was from the River
Rouge section of Detroit. A tough piece of real estate, to be sure, and a long,
long way in both distance and culture from rural McKean County. I asked her how
she got to Pitt-Bradford. She said she was here, as she put it, because of a
“generous stranger.” That stranger has paid the full net tuition at UPB for six
students from his alma mater, River Rouge High School -- students with talent
and drive who needed a helping hand. That generous stranger was Les Rice, of
the soon to be completed Rice Hall.
And still the
names roll on – so many names, so many gifts. Contributions, large and small,
of money, art, books; contributions of dreams and contributions of prayers.
They all built
this place. But it wasn’t easy.
historian once wrote that “We know the end before we consider the beginning, and
we can never wholly recapture what it was to know the beginning only.”
We, in other
words, who sit here amidst these wonderful facilities together with this
talented faculty can never really appreciate what it must have been like for
those early visionaries who started this work. 50 years ago, work started,
literally, in an old hardware store and a refitted hotel. They called into
existence what did not exist. They willed it into existence, they worked it
into existence, they hoped it into existence.
In the 1960s, when
this campus took root, was a very different and very frightening time in many
ways. People talked openly about the possibility of nuclear war with the Soviet
Union and the shared mutual destruction that would accompany it. Many serious
people even feared that nuclear warfare would end civilization as we know it --
a fear that took a very real form during the Cuban Missile Crisis. After
President Kennedy was assassinated many wondered aloud what kind of society we
had become, concerns that only resounded more loudly during the following years
as civil rights protests, and urban riots, and anti-war protests, and yet still
more assassinations wracked that very turbulent decade.
We know – now –
now – how that all ended. But those who founded this campus, those who looked
to the future and saw what wasn’t supposed to be there, they did not know how
it would all turn out. They moved ahead in hope, with the sure faith that
someday, students just like you would be sitting here in a place like this. They
did the best of things in what seemed to be the worst of times.
But just because
they did it, just because they succeeded so successfully, doesn’t mean it was
So, I’ll ask you, what
do you see in the future that is not supposed to be there?
Do you look into
the future and see the unfairness of an economy in which we speak with near
religious reverence of the free market and of corporations as though either the
free market has a conscience or the corporation has a soul? Do you see
unfairness? Then do something about it, but it won’t be easy.
Do you look into
the future and see the irony of telling our young people that education is the
key to our nation’s future and then saddling those same young people with
overwhelming student debt? Do you see irony? Then do something about it, but it
won’t be easy.
Do you look into
the future and see the dangers of climate change? Then consider the
possibilities that wind, and solar and tidal power, combined with efficiently
burned fossil fuels, can assure our continued industrial growth and maintain our
position of international leadership. Do you see dangers? Then do something
about it, but it won’t be easy.
Do you look into
the future a see a void of art and music and literature as part of the everyday
fabric of our educational and communal lives? Do you see a cultural void? Then
do something about it, but it won’t be easy.
Do you look into
the future and worry that the debate over the future may be won, not by those
with the best ideas, but won instead by those with the most money? Does that
worry you? Then do something about it, but it won’t be easy.
Take a lesson from
the Founders. Important things worth doing are not easy. Important things are
worth doing because they are hard. Building colleges, going to the moon,
preserving and protecting democracy, caring for our environment, fostering
communities in which neighbors care about neighbors – they are worth doing
because they are hard. And they may take decades to accomplish.
Have no doubt, sometimes
you are going to fail. Some of you will fail in business; some of you will fail
in marriage; some of you will lose elections; some of you will suffer the
ravages of disease; some of you will lose your faith; some of you will lose
someone that you simply loved too much to lose.
But fear of
failure -- I tell you this with all the urgency and confidence in my power -- fear
of failure is no reason not to try. Fear of failure is no reason not to try to
start a business; or to seek the joys of marriage; or to run for office; or to
fight disease. Fear of what you may learn is no reason not to seek a deep and
meaningful spiritual life; and fear of the pain of losing love should not
discourage you from enjoying the wonderfully fulfilling satisfactions of a
The simple truth
is this: Either you will live your life with energy and joy and enthusiasm and
passion – doing the hard things that matter; or you will live your life in fear
and anxiety, despairing over what might have been. There are no other options.
All of us gathered
here today who care for you, perhaps who even love you, or perhaps who don’t
even know you, all of us have looked into your future and tried to prepare you
for that future. Your collective and individual success assures the success of the
American experiment. Your collective and individual success keeps faith with
all those who for 50 years have looked to the future, and have trusted that
education, your education, would lead to a better and brighter world.
So now, graduates,
it is your turn to look into the future. Look for what is not supposed to be
there. Fix what you see. All you have to do is do it.
And, some point while
you’re at it, give a tip-of-the-hat to the Founders – and make them proud.
Good luck to you
all and Godspeed.