Convocation Address

James B. Crooks

Distinguished Professor

History

Mr. President, Graduates, Families and Friends. To the Graduates: tonight the honor is yours. You have overcome the myth--the myth that UNF stands for You Never Finish.

Now a question: how many graduates anticipate going on for an advanced degree? Perhaps one never does finish!

Hopefully, that's true. If we as a faculty at UNF have been successful--along with your previous teachers and other special people--if we have been successful, by now you should be in the mode of LIFELONG LEARNING. You have realized that the more you learn, the more there is to know.

Lifelong Learning operates on at least three levels. On one level, it is fundamental to most careers. What computer scientist can rely on the technology of five years ago? What teacher of science can neglect ongoing discoveries in physics, biology, chemistry or astronomy? What historian today can tell the story of Christopher Columbus the way it was told a generation ago, Platform Guests, UNF Faculty colleagues, before we acknowledged the existing cultures of native Americans?

Business and professional people continually update their knowledge and skills through seminars and workshops. Lifelong Learning is fundamental to one's work.

It is also fundamental to one's citizenship. What health care system should Americans develop to include all of us at a reasonable cost? What kind and cost of defense does America need with the end of the Cold War? How do we balance the environment with economic growth? We must continue to learn in order to make intelligent choices for our nation's future.

Finally, Lifelong Learning is fundamental to our "pursuit of happiness". Thomas Jefferson personified this habit as well as any American, and of course included it along with life and liberty in our Declaration of Independence: ''Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness".

Pursuing happiness in the large sense extends beyond immediate gratification. It has intimations of lifelong involvement; satisfaction with what one has done; expanding one's horizons through music, art, theater and books; and continuing to grow in mind and spirit through all the days of one's life. We might consider the ultimate goal of Lifelong Learning to be the a continuing growth of mind and spirit.

If Lifelong Learning is fundamental to one's pursuit of happiness, so too is a lifetime of Volunteer Service. Everyone in this Coliseum has been the beneficiary of someone's volunteer efforts: caring for us as youngsters, enabling us to become better adults, censoring us in a myriad of ways. Elie Wiesel, (Ellie Weizel) survivor of the Holocaust and Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, wrote recently in Parade Magazine that we are the sum of what others have done for us: family, teachers, employers- -mentors of all kinds.

Now with your degree soon to be in your hand comes the time for payback. We never can re-pay many of the people who have enabled us to be here, but we can pass along our caring to someone else. Many of us already do, volunteering through church and synagogue or other community organization. In this regard, I have been particularly pleased by the opening of the UNF Volunteer Service Center this past year under the direction of Eduardo Castellon-Vogel. Even more, I am pleased to hear about Sean Nelson's distinguished record of community service here tonight.

On a national level, our history shines with the volunteer service of Americans down through the centuries. Alexis de Tocqueville, that great French observer of American customs, wrote in the 1830s about the generosity of Americans forming groups to help one another; and of the importance of volunteering in making our nation work.

Our Judeo-Christian heritage also teaches that service to others gives meaning to our lives. I am not alone in my conviction that our lives are enriched by sharing our time and talents with others. Having said that, and recognizing that many, if not all, of you already do share time and talents, I want to go a step further and suggest there are different kinds of volunteer service, some of which you may not yet have considered.

First, the most common kind of volunteer service involves you and me with people we already know, such as our family members, and in our neighborhood or community. We may already volunteer in programs that enable youngsters--perhaps our children or younger siblings--to play soccer, become a scout or attend Sunday school classes. We take part in our PTA neighborhood association, church or synagogue. This is the most popular form of volunteering because one sees direct results through family and friends one already knows.

A second more challenging form of community service is with people you don't know, people who do not have someone able to care. This kind of service might include tutoring an inner city child, helping an adult learn to read, building a Habijax house, enabling a handicapped person to have a fuller life, assisting an AIDS victim, or visiting a nursing home resident on a regular basis. Sometimes this volunteering is more than just one on one. Sometimes we work with small groups of people such as eight or ten inner city kids, or perform musically for a group of patients.

Volunteering to help disadvantaged people is both more difficult and more rewarding, for both them and you. It also is a service desperately needed in our society.

A third kind of volunteer service involves a person creating institutional change to assist needy people. Last year, a handful of young people secured a Jacksonville Community Foundation grant to build bridges between the privileged students at Bolles School and underprivileged children at the YWCA Royal Point Family center for homeless single parents with children. These young people built better bridges than they ever anticipated. They involved their teachers, parents, other classes and the commitment of the entire school to continue to work with Royal Point youngsters. They also involved the Royal Point children and their mothers in a partnership of caring people.

Involving institutions in community service multiplies the resources available for assistance. The person or persons who persuaded the Barnett Bank to partner with Matthew Gilbert Middle School in Jacksonville helped the teenagers at that school, but they also helped change the corporate culture at the bank toward the ideal of community service.

The person who persuaded Scotty's Hardware to rebate a portion of their sales for Habijax housing not only helped build homes, but raised the consciousness of customers who saved their sales slips to do their part. The list of institutional involvement could go on: schools, churches, businesses, law firms, medical practices, and neighborhood groups. In each case, someone, or some people were the motivating force. There are a lot more institutions that need to become involved, or more involved in this kind of community service.

Volunteer service has many faces. Like Lifelong Learning, it also is important in your and my individual fulfillment as human beings--in our pursuit of happiness. It is crucial in confronting our social, environmental, educational, cultural and health care problems. As we prepare for the 21st century, we must confront and eliminate our racial prejudices; we must lessen our environmental pollution; we must reduce the number of school dropouts; we must eliminate discrimination against women and minorities.
We need to do these things for global economic competition, Many reasons: to meet our to prevent social anarchy in our cities, and because they are right!

Am I over dramatic? Perhaps. Can you and I change the world? Not alone. But we can do our part--through our families, churches, synagogues and mosques, schools, businesses, volunteer associations and other civic groups. We can enable other people to live full lives; we can reduce some of the social strife; and we can create a better world for our and coming generations.

Lifelong Learning and Volunteer Service. When you wake up tomorrow after tonight's celebration, remember both. Make Lifelong Learning and Volunteer Service lifetime priorities. Do that and you will lead full lives. Your community will be the better for you. And the University of North Florida will be even prouder to be your alma mater.

Congratulations and Godspeed.