Click below to hear the episode:
In an interview originally intended for Memorial Day, RI Supreme Court Chief Justice (Ret.) Frank Williams, a Lincoln scholar, on presidential character — or lack thereof.
And members of the 16th annual Brake the Cycle of Poverty ride, below, pause along their Tour de Connecticut. The cyclists stopped at churches, retreat houses and government offices to highlight the growing problem of poverty and urge greater economic opportunity. For information about how you can take part, either as a rider or support staffer, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top, l-r: John Ryan, Wendy Rego, Tom Breen; bottom, l-r: Maureen Flanagan and Katie Johnson
“All will yet be well again”
Below is the commencement address Chief Williams delivered in May to graduates of Mississippi State University, where his and his wife Virginia’s collection of Lincolniana is archived:
“An Army of One”
This is a great occasion and I am delighted to be with you. Thank you, President Mark Keenum for your progressive leadership and for the expertise and scholarship of the distinguished faculty and staff at this great institution. Their spouses and companions are not to be forgotten either. A special thanks to the relatives and friends who gather together today to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates, who have worked so hard, and for many, who have persevered – although faced with great personal sacrifice.
Congratulations Class of 2018!
Parents, this is your celebration too – especially for writing those monthly checks. I know you must feel relieved as you watch your investment walk across the stage, knowing that your asset will deliver some keenly anticipated dividends. Unfortunately, for many of you, after your investment walks off the stage, it will parade back into your homes where rent, laundry, and internet access are free. There will be, I assure you, more bills.
At my commencement ceremony from Boston University, I had no idea who the speaker was or what he said. Realistically, I acknowledge that your experience will likely be the same. Like you, I wanted a short speech, since you, too, are not going to remember who your speaker was anyway. Frank J. Williams – W-I-L-L-I-A-M-S.
Each of you is here today because of someone else: a parent, a sibling, a teacher, a neighbor, a mentor, someone who had faith and confidence in you, someone who nurtured your dreams. As you leave here today, take a moment to think of those who have come before you, who have helped you along the way, who are at your side today. Mississippi State University is what it is because of you and you are what you are because of Mississippi State University.
Through no fault of your own, you are entering this world at a time when our nation is divided by conflicting policies and an unavoidable War on Terror. My generation is partly to blame. We left this country vulnerable, opening the door to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that forever changed this nation. And, as represented by the gridlock in Washington, we are a house divided. As Abraham Lincoln said in 1858 just before the Civil War, “…A house divided against itself cannot stand… I do not expect the house to fall – I do expect it will cease to be divided.”
I take comfort, however, in knowing that our nation has prevailed before, despite tough times. You, the new leaders of America, are charged with an important duty – the preservation of democracy. Our nation needs men and women like you to help it bind its wounds. I am confident that you are well equipped to do just that if you have courage, resilience and empathy. Through the efforts of hard working Americans like you, who cherish patriotism, loyalty, friendship, family, service, and sacrifice, all will yet be well again.
So, I charge you to re-instill faith in our country, which is after all, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “The last best hope of earth.”
Democracy is a living, breathing thing. It requires our sustenance to continue. In your time at State, you have learned much and have grown intellectually, emotionally, and socially. But now, you have a greater challenge, the broader mission of running the race of life with all of its “friction and abrasion.” For our republic to survive and prosper, you need to reserve some time for service. So put those smartphones down and get out there. Embrace life. Volunteer, run for office, serve in the military, join the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or Teach for America, discover your cause and immerse yourself in it. [I am pleased to note that 25 of your class will soon be commissioned second lieutenants in the U. S. Army and Air Force]. Hold tight to the other things in life that matter too: your family, your friends, your religion, and the people who prepared you to succeed.
So get up, get out there and make every day better than the last. One person can make a difference. Early in this new century, an army major general had created the slogan, “An Army of one.” By this, he celebrated the value of the individual, but he also reinforced the concept of commitment to a cause greater than self. The general who wrote of an “army of one” understood the importance of the team. He perished when an aircraft struck the Pentagon on 9/11, giving his life so others might live.
The violence of the last century claimed over 100 million lives, so now we are due a peaceful century. You have the power and responsibility to create that kind of a world. I agree with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, that in order to create a happier, peaceful world, we need to first find inner peace. World peace can be achieved through seeking inner peace and mediating conflicts – not through the use of weapons.
Since my retirement from the judicial bench, I mediate cases in an effort to bring people – families, businesses, state agencies – together so they can resolve their disputes – some of them ugly and contentious – without their taking their hostility to the streets or in the courts where there is a very real chance of unhappy results for all.
We build resilience into ourselves – as no one is born with it. We build resilience into the people we love and we build it together as a community. It is an incredibly powerful force and it’s one that our country and world need a lot more of right now. It is in our relationships with each other that we find our will to endure, our capacity to love, and the power to make lasting changes in the world.
Do not fear failure either, failure is part of everyone’s narrative. Learn from it. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Failure is as much a part of life as success and disappointment is as much a fact of life as fulfillment.”. That is the beauty of America because we continually get new chances, new opportunities to get it right.
The truth is: we cannot solve the problems we face by blaming someone else. We are all in this together, and we all must be part of the solution. America’s power in the world comes not from the walls we build, but from the doors we open offering opportunity.
Virginia and I gave you and Mississippi State a gift. It is the collection about Abraham Lincoln and our Civil War. We wanted it to come here for many reasons and one of those is to give you access to the rudiments that Lincoln possessed – a fundamental vision, a golden temperament, and a shrewd strategy for how to cope with the realities of the moment.
He saw America as a land where ambitious poor boys and girls like himself could transform themselves through hard work. We call it, “the right to rise.”
Lincoln’s temperament surpasses all explanation. His early experience of depression and suffering gave him self-honesty and imbued him with political courage He had a double-minded personality that we need in all our leaders. He was involved in a bloody Civil War, but he was an exceptionally poor hater. He was deeply engaged, but also able to step back; a passionate advocate, but also able to see his enemy’s point of view; aware of his own power, but aware of when he was helpless in the hands of fate; extremely self-confident but extremely humble. His strengths reflected discernment, which involves waiting, listening, letting competing options for action emerge and choosing one after prayer and deliberation.
Lincoln had empathy. He recognized a shared humanity between himself and African-Americans. Slavery was wrong, and he knew it needed to end. It was in conflict with the very principles of our Founding. What better place is there for our Lincoln Collection, gathered in Rhode Island and throughout the world, than here at Mississippi State University as not only a symbol but a resource for continued healing in this great land?
We live in a partisan time, and I do not see a Lincoln on our horizon. A person with his face could not survive the multi-media age. A person with his capacity for introspection could not survive our 24/7 self-branding culture. But we do need in our leaders, in you our future leaders, a portion of his gifts – someone who is philosophically grounded, emotionally mature, and tactically cunning.
Your futures are bright. You stand on the bottom rung of a very tall ladder – let passion; sincerity and earnestness propel you to the top.
But don’t succumb to a Roman Coliseum culture that leaves no place for mercy. The civic fabric will be stronger if, instead of trying to sever relationships with those who have done wrong, we try to repair them, if we try forgiveness instead of exile.
Let political courage, resilience and empathy lead you.
Go forth and be amazing. May God bless you.
We met our goal!
A HUGE thank-you to all of you who donated to WESU’s spring pledge drive! Clearly, you understand the importance of keeping independent, free-form, non-commercial community radio alive!