This evening I had the great privilege and honor to participate in Erskine’s oldest tradition, the JJ Darlington Cup Intersociety Debate between the Euphemian and Philomathean Literary Societies. While I’ll write more about the debate – and my feelings on it – in the coming week when I am NOT exhausted, I wanted to share with you all my oratory for the evening.
Yet this evening I am reminded of a fable Aesop tells of a traveler who rents a donkey and its owner for a long journey. The weather is unbearably hot and both the traveller and the owner seek refuge in the donkey’s shadow, a shadow big enough for one man. A violent dispute arises as to who has the right to this shadow and in the midst of it the donkey runs off and Aesop leaves us with the moral – “In quarrelling about the shadow, we often lose the substance.”
This past year has been one of the darkest in Erskine’s history. We have seen – we have participated in – division, anger, and bitterness in what should be a united Erskine Community. We have spent the last year quarreling over the shadow and forgetting about Erskine College. That our president could give a mini-session asking “What is Erskine?” speaks to the barest of facts: we as an Erskine Community need to be reminded of what Erskine truly is.
This is our time. A time in which we must focus on the future of Erskine, not the trivial technicalities of the present.
Erskine has always been more than a factory for degrees, always offered more than generous scholarships, she has always left her students with more than a GPA. And it comes to us – this generation of the Erskine Community, this student body, this Board of Trustees, this audience – to guarantee that Erskine becomes more she is, more than she has ever been. This is our time.
We gather tonight not just to uphold this time-honored tradition, but to to examine ideas that will profoundly shape Erskine’s future. This debate is more than the continuation of a historic rivalry, more than an opportunity to receive convocation credit. It must be more – what is at stake is not a trophy or bragging rights, but what will Erskine become, not only for ourselves but for the kindergartner just learning his alphabet who may one day walk this historic campus. This is our time.
Should Erskine be an authentic Christian Community? What does that phrase even mean? What guides our lives as students and faculty? What does our mission statement and our Christianity mean in practical terms for each and every day?
Tonight is a exercise of intellect and well should it be! Wise words are a vital part of focusing on Erskine’s future. But it cannot stop there. To all of us – Student, Board Member, Alumnus, President – falls the responsibility for action. What we do each day as members of the Erskine Community changes what Erskine will become and so builds or destroys the future of this place. This is our time.
Words can cripple a future or prepare us for it, but only actions can make Erskine the best that she can be – the model church-affiliated liberal arts school.
This is our calling, a calling laid down by our founders and our classmates who have walked this campus for nearly two centuries, a calling we were given the moment we walked Under the Towers. I pray that we will not forsake it, forsake Erskine. Focusing on an unknowable future is the most daunting of tasks, but I know that the Erskine Community has the strength, the passion, and the perseverance to rise to this challenge as we have risen to so many before.
But we can only do it together.
The events of this past year began with students, but soon became little more than a quarrel over a donkey’s shadow. It is time for us to focus on the donkey. It is time for us as a student body to take back into our hands the destiny of our college. This is our time.
Every decision, every action, every step to class forges the future of Erskine and that future – whatever it may become – is ours. We are here tonight to celebrate history and to look towards the future.
But tomorrow, tomorrow Erskine’s future is in our hands through our actions. This is our time.