Albion Interactive History / Library / Commencement Address (1953)

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Leroy Kimball, Commencement Address, June 8, 1953

Our Albion Heritage

Daniel Webster on a calm moonlight night is said to have confided to his college chum at Dartmouth that “ambition was the essence of his soul.” He is said to have further observed that “ambition in one form or another puts us all on a level with great ruler.” Be that as it may, he did become the great constitutional lawyer of the middle period of the last century, but his victories in statecraft and diplomacy were never on a par with his ever soaring ambitions. Webster went to Dartmouth from Salisbury, a village somewhat east of the college town, in central New Hampshire.

Years later there also went to Dartmouth, from the upper part of that state, from Lancaster, in Coos County, another young man, also fired with ambition, who, not long after, became the first head of the fair institution which graces these campus acres today. He came by way of Wesleyan in Connecticut.

This happened well over a hundred years ago. Also this young man had the good taste to fall in love with and marry the daughter of the richest resident of Albion Village. She bore him a daughter who became the first young woman to attend and graduate from the University of Michigan.

Early Presidents
Charles Franklin Stockwell was not to live an extended life of usefulness, as he died at the age of thirty-three, but with a reputation for strict integrity and a versatile mind, two attributes which qualify him, in our judgment, as worthy of that early first place in the large and notable group which now constitutes the bone and sinew of Our Albion Heritage.

Stockwell’s successor, Clark Titus Hinman, from upper New York State, took his preparatory work at the same school as Stockwell – Newbury in Vermont, and received hi A.B. from Wesleyan University in 1839. He came to Albion from the headship of Newbury in 1846 and had a successful term of seven years during which he prevailed upon the Albion trustees to make the institution coeducational, a fact, we naturally assume, which caused general rejoicing among the young gentlemen students then, as now. One hundred years ago this Fall, it is recorded, Dr. Hinman resigned to open classes and become the first president of Northwestern University at Evanston.

An Albion student under Dr. Hinman has left some notations of his experiences in those days. Among them he recalls the language room on the second floor of what is now Robinson Hall “where Miss Humphrey piloted us over the shoals and through the depths of Caesar’s Commentaries and the Aeneid . . . how we were locked in with smallpox, an unwelcome guest; how we studied, disobeyed, learned, forgot, loafed, ponied, won honors and credits and lost them; fell in love and out again monthly or more frequently, thus justifying coeducation as the chiefest of systems.”

For a brief interval of fifteen months Ira Mayhew succeeded Dr. Hinman and resigned to become Superintendent of Public Instruction for Michigan.

Next came Thomas Henry Sinex, a promising young educator from DePauw University then known as Asbury University. He had just passed his 30th birthday. It was during the ten years of his administration that the institution became a full-fledged college of liberal arts – this in the middle of the last century.

George Beniers Jocelyn, born in the shadow of Yale University, attended DePauw and served for eleven years with distinction; tradition says he was idolized by students and faculty alike.

Presidents Fiske and Ashley
Lewis Ransom Fiske was a striking and familiar figure on the campus and the streets of Albion at the turn of the century. Ever curious small boys, of which the speaker was one, were overawed at the tall, rather heavy-set physique, with slightly stooped shoulders and long white beard and searching eyes. A most kindly man! Before his twenty years and six months in the Albion presidency he had taught at Ypsilanti and East Lansing. A graduate of the University of Michigan with three degrees, including an honorary LL.D. received eight years before his Albion career, he was characterized in 1909 as “a scholarly friend to everyone. His broad legal mind came to the best conclusions and his administration is not only the longest but perhaps one of the strongest thus far in the history of the institution.” That in 1909.

For the four years, from 1897 to 1901, John Paul Ashley, born at Stoke-on-Trent, England, was president. Educated at Ohio Wesleyan, Boston University, Jena, Leipzig, Berlin and Oxford, he earned his Ph.D. at two universities, but was immersed in scholarship and had little grasp of administrative problems.

The Scotch and Scotch-Irish have from time to time taken a firm grip on American education and Albion has not escaped. Our inheritance for the 44 years following John Paul Ashley – that is, up to eight years ago, was from the descendents of the Scots and the Celts, rather well mixed in one or two cases.

President Dickie
But there was straight Scotch blood in Samuel Dickie – his mother was Jane McNabb. The family lived in Canada long enough for Samuel to claim it as his birthplace. President Dickie was professor of astronomy for ten years, a manufacturer for fourteen years and the head of the college for twenty years.

Many of us will remember paying our tuition fees to him personally in the first room at the left in the South Building. He always said that was the best way to learn the financial habits of his students. He had been mayor of Albion and was an outspoken champion of prohibition. He was Albion’s first home-grown product to become president. His three degrees were from Albion. He lived here for many years – a delightful life sentence indeed for any man or woman, reasonably tucked away from the intensely congested areas which seem to be proudly neurotic.

President Dickie was always the best-dressed male on the campus. Those of us with peg top corduroy trousers and pull-over sweaters of course did not think so at the time.

At faculty parties he would take his well-worn copy of Bobby Burns’ poems and read a half dozen selections usually concluding with “Cottar’s Saturday Night,” which, as you know, describes the poet’s father’s performance of family devotions. As a young offspring of a faculty family, I thought at the time the poem was appropriate as the parties were usually held on Saturday night.

President Dickie’s mind was lucidity itself and the most complicated situation became clear under his simple explanation. He was a speaker of clarity and power. There was wit as well as loftiness in his speech and generosity in his friendship. When fundamentals were at issue Samuel Dickie became a furious St. George, and the sword of his mind dealt devastating blows. He possessed a reserve that restrained familiarity. He dominated our College but did not domineer it.

In recounting the administrative souls who make up our heritage we have, like the sundial, recorded only the sunny hours. There of course have been others of a different hue. Situations such as President Eliot of Harvard alluded to when a neighboring college president asked him how things were going, to which he replied: “Things seem to be going fairly well, now that a spirit of pessimism prevails in all departments.”

Another Harvard leader, President Lowell, began the house system at Cambridge following Mr. Harkness’ gift of funds to build those beautiful houses to supplant the old arrangement, and thus put all students on a democratic basis, without clannishness. President Lowell explained in some detail the success of the experiment to a large group of financial administrative officers from other colleges and universities. We ate at one end of the magnificent two or three story high dining hall, with the students of the house dining at tables in the other extreme of the room. I happened to be presiding and as I walked with the President down toward the students, one young man rushed up to Dr. Lowell, who inquired for his father’s health and as to how the young freshman was enjoying his residing in the house. The young man replied it had been more uninteresting and lonely at first, but now that he had found two or three congenial fellows to dine with, they were organizing a little club of their own.

President Lowell looked at me with raised eyebrows. No further reference was made to the new democratic student life.

There you have it. We are born organizers and fraternizers. The old story may be true that if three Americans fell out of a balloon they would be organized into president, secretary and treasurer before they reached the ground.

Societies and fraternities, for men and women, form a pleasurable part of our heritage, the former from the earliest days and the latter more recent.When the old Erosophian Literary Society was founded in 1867 in North Hall through the consolidation of two societies known as “The Clever Fellows” and “The Clever Girls,” the Methodist Conference undoubtedly never knew about it as there were no newspapers or radios in the village. It probably was just as well.

President Laird
After Samuel Dickie came another Scotch or Scotch-Irish president in John Wesley Laird. Born in Scotland and a Syracuse man, he was thirty-nine years old when he came from Mt. Vernon Place Church in Baltimore. His three years on the campus found our College making, for the first time, appeals for financial support in far flung financial capitals and elsewhere. This bore fruit not only during his administration but also years later. At the age of 71, Dr. Laird continues active today, I am informed, as professor of philosophy at Temple University, Philadelphia.

President Seaton
A real plethora of Scots! John Lawrence Seaton was the last of the triumvirate. Three in a row – all with the ever present inherited sense of things financial. President Seaton came at the age of 52 and finished a conservative, financial guardianship career twenty-one years later in 1945. He came as a seasoned preacher, also as a former secretary of the Methodist Board of Education – five years – and as the most recent president of the College of the Pacific – five years. He distinguished himself among other things as a conservationist of the assets of the college. No president before him had had the same opportunity for such service to Albion. His right-hand men helped most nobly and notably and distinguished themselves in their service to their president and the college.

John Seaton is a survey expert known throughout the country, a splendid judge of what a church related liberal arts college should stand for. At the age of 80 he is still a guiding spirit in this field.

Today Our Albion Heritage shines brightly. The glow is to a considerable extent the reflection from the long list of faculty greats who have labored these many years to make Albion’s graduates ready for their worlds to be conquered. Oftimes their fame as great teachers has rested as much on their example as upon any imparted wisdom. The church related teaching scholars are examples of right living. Faculty members in general achieve careers through the process of promoting careers in others. Theirs is a life of selflessness, and too often that fact is lost sight of in the large universities. Professors are an intellectual aristocracy; they possess a passion for perfection and their endeavor is to teach their pupils to experience the joys of true scholarship as they know it.

Albion, An Outstanding Liberal Arts College
Albion’s achievement in the recent years has been phenomenal. This growth in educational stature has come to the knowledge of the rest of the college world and throughout the land Albion is recognized as the best liberal arts college in the State of Michigan.

The liberal arts colleges have the most important part of their aim a curriculum which includes the basic bodies of knowledge: mathematics, philosophy, the languages, the natural sciences, the social studies, and the arts. Supplementing these traditional subjects and competing with them for the student’s time and interest, and for the attention and resources of the colleges, are the less older subjects more directly related to occupations and to professional training. If you would care to read a discussion of these basic things – that is, in course subjects, I would commend a new book titled To Teach the Senators Wisdom or an Oxford Guide Book, written by J.C. Masterman, provost of Worcester College, Oxford. It is written in conversational form, scintillating conversation among several Oxford dons, with a surprise finale.

Perhaps the greatest recent tribute to the small liberal arts colleges is the news of a few days ago that Nathan Pusey, president of Lawrence College in Wisconsin has been chosen as the new president of Harvard University. Some of us have known him as the present chairman of the Association of American Colleges’ Committee on Liberal Education. He is a native of Iowa with all of his teaching and administration in small liberal arts colleges. This news is stimulating to those of us who look to the colleges to give a good sound general education in the undergraduate years.

President Whitehouse
And here we pause to pay our respects to the present administration.Were the gentlemen in question not here today we might extol his many virtues beyond an all to brief resume of some of his interesting background. From the books about well-known people we find him as a youth in England’s largest county, Yorkshire; the shire of Jane Eyre; the county of East Riding, West Riding, North Riding and so forth; the county of purple moorlands, with fast sailing clouds and strong winds – the county of the lapwing, the floating kestral, and the wild bee, for your company as you ride towards Scarborough, Whitby or Harrogate for your holiday.

This was the native heath of William Whitehouse, hardy, broad-shouldered like his henchmen, hundreds of whom are bright spots in England’s colorful history.

But Will Whitehouse’s vision was high and beyond those moors; it was on America where he came, was soon a citizen and pressed his education in the proper institutions, culminating it all with his doctor of philosophy degree from Northwestern University. Then followed his teaching and administrative years at Albion, at Wayne University; and listening to the unanimous and enthusiastic call of the Albion Board of Trustees eight years ago, he came back to Albion, where he belongs, and belongs to us all. His years here now total at least twenty-five, something of a real record in educational responsibilities such as have been his here.

Along with local responsibilities have gone many outside ones and many honors of note in all sorts of humanitarian causes. One of the latest is his recent election as one of the half dozen directors of the Association of American Colleges, the important group which takes in some 800 colleges and universities dedicated to education in the liberal arts.

President Whitehouse has worn the mantle of his office with a grace of his own. His worth has been recognized, not only in ways already mentioned, but by generous individuals and beneficent corporate organizations which believe in him and what he has done and is doing for our college.

The Value of Books
Ours is a heritage of strong and good men at the helm and in the classrooms. They have taught us to live with those greatest of friends – good books. Not like the student who when he was asked what two books had had the greatest influence on his life answered: “My mother’s cook book and my father’s check book.” But as the injunction said to have been carved on the chimney front in Historian John Fiske’s library: “Live as if you are to die tomorrow; read as if you are to live forever.” The poet Cowley’s wish was: “May I a small house and large garden have, a few friends and many books.”

And speaking of gardens, some years ago on a peaceful morning, while I was strolling through an English garden, the new gardener arose, trowel in hand and observed, with a hand on his cap: “The kitchen tells me ye be schoolmaster, sir.” The reply was a hesitating, “Yes.” Whereupon Gillard sighed and said: “Us who have no edication, just have to use our brains.” Today calls for both education and all the brains we can muster to go with it.

Graduates of 1953!
You graduates of 1953 have much as you enter the world that we older people envy you. You have youth, and health, and zest, and curiosity, and good will and courage, which you have been taught here at Albion to employ to the full. Respect tradition because it is what you are passing on to the next generation. Opportunity usually knocks on everyone’s door – but don’t blame anyone but yourself if you are visiting a neighbor at the time. But after all, it’s usually four parts hard work.

And be tolerant in all things, especially in life’s contacts. Today calls for the tolerance which William Schuyler speaks of in his commandment:

“Though shall not judge a man by race;
Good or bad, he stands alone.
Thou shall not rob him of his grace
Lest thou sacrifice thine own.”