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Jolly's commencement speech 2009

Marshall JollyGood morning. As a student of history, I would like to begin by telling you a story. Nearly two centuries ago, when our great nation was still very young, Transylvania was already well-established in its vocation of educating America’s youth. In May of 1819, Horace Holley, the President of Transylvania, began keeping a journal of sermons. Every Sunday, President Holley would preach to the students, faculty, and staff in the University Chapel. On the first Sunday in July, which happened to fall on the Fourth day in 1819, President Holley prepared for what would be one of the most important sermons of his life. In the days leading up to Sunday, July 4, 1819, Holley undoubtedly devoted himself to preparing his heart and mind to give this sermon in the presence of two of America’s most influential leaders: President James Monroe and General Andrew Jackson, both of whom were visiting Lexington. As the candlelight flickered long past sunset and into the evening, Holley sat at his desk, writing his sermon in the small journal, which he kept with him nearly all of the time. President Holley preached from the Book of Acts and as he peered out over his congregation on the anniversary of American Independence, a gathering of students, professors, and the nation’s leaders, he asked of them, “What shall we do, what shall we be, what principles, affections, habits, and motives shall we follow and cherish in order to enjoy our existence permanently?”

Today, in the face of wars, economic crises, natural disasters, and swelling poverty rates, this is still our question. As we sit on this historic lawn where 2 US Vice Presidents, 101 US Representatives, a Supreme Court Justice, 50 Senators, 36 Governors, and 34 Ambassadors have walked before us, we must ask ourselves “what shall be our principles, affections, habits, and motives that we will follow and cherish in order to enjoy our existence permanently?”

I stand before you today, humbled by our shared accomplishments and empowered by our shared gifts. As I reflect on these four years, I am reminded of how this campus united in support of our fellow student, Lino Nakwa. I recall the impact that Marcie Smith has had on the leaders in Washington, D.C. when she addressed a session of Congress regarding global sustainability and climate change. I am reminded of our campus working through organizations such as the First-Year Urban Program, the Transylvania Environmental Rights and Responsibilities Alliance, Alternative Spring Break, and Crimson Christmas to make a difference in our community. This spirit of compassion and unity must not wane. It must remain steadfast within each of us.

In a few moments, we will take the same path that thousands of alumnae before us have taken. Our names will be marked in the register of Transylvania graduates and we will take up the responsibilities that the classroom and this University has prepared us for. As we depart from this place with our freshly minted degrees, the difficulty for each of us will be to convert our years of education into effective, responsible, and meaningful lives.

So as we move forward from Transylvania into our respective careers and vocations, let us be blessed with discomfort: discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships so that we may live deep within our hearts. Let us be blessed with anger: anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace. Let us be blessed with tears: tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. And may we be blessed with foolishness: enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world and do what others have said cannot be done.

As we take on the many problems of this community, this nation, and this world, let us be united behind our love for one another and let us join with our brothers and sisters who share our human likeness so we may not become the mere memory of future generations; but instead, the hope for a better tomorrow.

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