In the spring of last year, Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University, delivered a moving speech to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Faust, a prize-winning Civil War historian, reaffirmed the liberal arts and humanities and their priceless nurturing of leadership and the power of words.
The liberal arts education, which we at Wake Forest enjoy is, according to Faust, under attack. While calls are issued for more “useful” fields of study and liberal arts requirements are being dropped, military academies like West Point are adding those requirements. Graduates from West Point are entering the “real world” with broad-based learning — and the humanities are leading the way. Literally.
Faust says a leader has perspective, the capacity to improvise, and “the persuasive power of language.” Leaders inspire others to believe in possibility which is distinctly human and informed by a liberal arts/humanities education. Leaders share a gift for words that move the hearts and minds of followers and compel action in the name of a purpose beyond self-interest.
The leader of Faust’s rhetoric is the kind of leader I want us to be when we graduate from Wake Forest. I want us to meet head-on the challenges of today, to strive for the higher ideals of self and society, to derive our virtue and character from our friendship, to enshrine the love of learning in the halls of Tribble as well as Babcock.
Wake Forest is proudly and avowedly a liberal arts institution. It must be understood, however, that with our education comes not only credentials — a bachelor’s degree — but also the elevation of ourselves and a capacity to elevate. I have already explained previously that Pro Humanitate, as an end or good, means more so the refinement of humanity than a service for other humans.
In elevating ourselves by serving others and learning, we are attaining a greater and finer capacity to elevate others. By serving our own humanity, we are better able to serve all humans. This process, needless to say, is predicated on the study of humanity and its hard-fought, age-old wisdom. That wisdom is the object of our studies and the purpose of our university through which we become leaders of tomorrow.
We need not be Washingtons or Lincolns or Roosevelts. There are few heroes, but many heroic actions, and I urge you to be speakers of words and doers of deeds, to infinity and beyond.