Opinion: Making a difference in civil, respectful ways

(Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
(Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)

As we all know, these graduates didn’t get here on their own. Behind each and every one of them stands family, friends, and mentors. Many of you are here today.

Would the graduates please rise, turn toward your guests and give them a rousing ovation for all the help and guidance they provided you.

It’s wonderful to welcome Donald Graham to Oglethorpe. Thank you Don for joining us today and especially thank you for the partnership which began this year between Oglethorpe and The Dream.US. Because of that partnership, among the 400 entering students this fall will be 22 Dreamers fulfilling their American dream of attending college. Earlier this week, I received notes from each of those students expressing their immense gratitude for the opportunity to study at Oglethorpe. Here’s just one:

“Growing up, I wanted to have a career and be successful and I know to do that I needed to go to college. I studied for hours in high school and often pulled all-nighters. Things changed for me when I grasped the idea of being undocumented and realized I would be unable to go to college even in my home state of Georgia. The barriers the state created for students like me were insurmountable. I lost hope until I found Dream.US. When I read the acceptance letter to Oglethorpe and found out about my scholarship, I cried for hours. For the first time I could say to myself I was going to college, and more importantly I could tell my mom that I was going to college.”

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately about beginnings and endings and of course commencement is about both of those, it’s both an ending and a beginning. As you leave this community, as your time here comes to an end, remember what has made it special. You came here from different backgrounds, different religions, different states and countries, vastly different economic circumstances.

In the beginning of your time here, those differences may have seemed more obvious than what you had in common. Yet despite all those differences, you created a community where your differences made our community stronger. They didn’t serve to tear it apart. You didn’t use difference to denigrate the other, but instead to celebrate the other.

I traveled this past month to Asia, to the Middle East and to Latin America. To countries whose politics and culture are very different than ours here in America. I met extraordinary people in every country. I met young people in Lahore, Pakistan, and Katmandu, Nepal, who are like you in so many ways despite differences in faith.

As you leave this very special place, this special community, I encourage you to take with you the values that we hold dear, that make Oglethorpe such a special place, and encourage you to strive to create similar communities wherever you land. Be the voice of respect, the voice of civility, and the voice of community. As you make your life and your living, be sure that you continue to make a difference wherever you are.

Lawrence M. Schall is president of Oglethorpe University.