Lt. Governor Bryant, Governor Winter, Mayor Johnson and officials of our City and State, Presidents Collins and McMillan, Vice Chancellors Ayres, Williamson, and Cunningham, Bishops Ward and Duncan, Chairman Hall and the Members of the Board of Trustees, Presidents and Delegates from Colleges, Universities & Learned Societies, Devoted Alumni, Faculty, Staff, and Students of the College, Family and Friends:
As many members of the Millsaps community have already discovered, bringing me on board as president meant getting frequent lessons in classical political theory. So, it will come as no surprise that I begin my remarks with the 4th century philosopher Plato.
In his search for the meaning of Justice, Plato offered the following dialogue between his mentor Socrates and a citizen of Athens named Glaucon.
"Tell me," asked Glaucon, "is there in your opinion a kind of good that we should choose to have not because we desire its consequences, but because we delight in it for its own sake-such as enjoyment and all the pleasures which are harmless and leave no after effects other than the enjoyment in having them?"
"In my opinion, at least," said Socrates, "there is a good of this kind."
"And what about this," Glaucon asked, "Is there a kind of good we like both for its own sake and for what comes of it, such as thinking and seeing and being healthy? Surely we delight in such things on both accounts."
"Yes" said Socrates.
"And, do you see a third form of good," inquires Glaucon, "which includes gymnastic exercise, medical treatment when sick, and the rest of the activities from which money is made? We would say that they are drudgery but beneficial to us; and we would not choose to have them for themselves but for the sake of the wages and whatever that comes from them."
"Yes," said Socrates, "there is also this third kind, but what of it?"
"Well," asked Glaucon, "in which of them would you include justice?"
"I, for my part," said Socrates, "suppose it belongs to the finest kind of good, which the man who is blessed should like both for itself and for what comes of it."
Six thousand years later, Socrates continues to remind us that the finest kind of good is that which has value both in and of itself and for what comes of it-a good that has both intrinsic value and extrinsic meaning-a good that we should seek for its deeply personal and inherent value as well as for its purpose and utility.
While framed in the context of the search for justice, I believe this formula of the "good" applies also to liberal arts education-the kind of education that promotes learning for its own, personal, and meaningful sake as well as for the purposeful benefit of the learner and the society-the kind of education, I believe, that was at the heart of the Founders' vision for Millsaps College 120 years ago, that has characterized her essence ever since; and that will be essential to her strength and influence in the years to come.
And, because I believe that liberal arts education is fundamentally transformative to individuals and crucial to society, and because Millsaps College is, at its best, an exemplar of liberal arts as preparation for a good and worthy life, it is my high privilege to accept the position and formally begin my service as the 11th President of this remarkable college.
It is also my privilege and great pleasure to be installed as President in the presence of my dear family (Phoebe, Carolyn and Wesley, my parents and my brothers) and in the company of so many wonderful people-devoted friends from the past who touch me deeply by your love and presence here today, and friends and colleagues in this new chapter of my family's life here in Jackson, Mississippi.
I give special thanks to my friend Jon Meacham who honors this place and privileges me by offering the inauguration address this morning. Twenty years ago this fall, when Jon was a student at Sewanee and I was a dean there, I wrote a letter of recommendation for him for graduate school. In that letter I quoted Plato's definition of courage to describe one of Jon's finest attributes. Courage, said Plato, is not, despite the dominant view of the time, chiefly about military valor and heroics on the battlefield. Rather, it is about maintaining one's convictions in the face of formidable challenge and in opposition to popular opinion. Courage, quoting Plato, "is a certain kind of preserving-the preserving of opinion and not casting it out in pains and pleasures and desires and fears." It's like a "color-fast dye," says Plato, "that cannot be washed out by those lyes [and soaps] so terribly effective at scouring." Jon, you are one of the most courageous thought-leaders of today. We appreciate your wise and influential voice in the national arena and on our campus this morning. Thank you, my friend.
I also want to express my gratitude:
Our faculty and staff are unequivocally committed to Millsaps as community of scholars in pursuit of excellence. Together, with the alumni, the Board of Trustees and all who love Millsaps, we will advance this institution in the years ahead.
To do so will mean boldly telling the story of our outstanding and courageous past, promoting our remarkable contemporary educational experience, and articulating and ensuring the success of a compelling vision for the future.
From her beginning and under the inspired leadership of the Founders, Reuban Millsaps, Charles Galloway, and William Murrah, the story of Millsaps College has been one of academic excellence and enlightened and generous access for those who could not afford private education in Mississippi and for those whose gender precluded their enrollment in many of the most prestigious all-male colleges in the country. Helen Hargrave Cabell, representing this morning her class of 1935, is a beautiful reminder of the legacy of women students, women leaders, who have been part of the Millsaps story from the beginning. Mrs. Cabell, I salute you and extend my heart-felt appreciation for your presence today.
Millsaps' story is also one of a church-related institution in which the principles of the Methodist faith and the Wesleyan tradition have reinforced the value of a broad-based education in light of reason and faith. As matters of religious faith have and always will profoundly shape the human experience, it has stood us in good stead to have had a context for discussing these matters and creating common ground on which dialogue may occur and relationships may be built.
And, certainly, our story is one of courage during the Civil Rights movement when Millsaps students, professors, Board members, and alumni were instrumental in our college being the first all-white college or university in Mississippi to voluntarily admit African-Americans. We celebrated our leading role in history yesterday when Mr. Meacham participated in a panel discussion that included leaders of the civil rights movement, Governor William Winter, President Leslie McLemore, alumnus Jeanne Luckett, and author Jerry Mitchell. It is a personal privilege to have had this conversation with these brave Americans as part of the activities associated with my inauguration.
Today's story of Millsaps is no less focused on principle and progress; no less committed to our abiding character as community of scholars pursuing excellence in all that we do.
We have a stellar academic environment provided by a nationally acclaimed and deeply caring assembly of teacher-scholars and by a staff that understands the inextricable and enormously important connection between the academic and extra-curricular life and between the role of the mind and heart in personal growth and transformation.
We have a curriculum that, through our traditional core courses, our comprehensive disciplines, and our progressive interdisciplinary areas of study highlights the values and essential ingredients of the liberal arts tradition and exposes our students to the best that higher education has to offer.
But, while committed to core values and classical learning, we're also mindful of advances in thought and information, and we challenge our students to question assumptions and take intellectual risks. In this vein, I've always loved the words of John Milton from his treatise Areopagitica written in 1644, "I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sullies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat." We encourage our students to undertake this race and intellectual journey during this rare moment in their lives when they are at their greatest freedom to explore; when their identity is still being shaped; when their future is limitless.
In these ways, we promote the intrinsic pleasures of learning and philosophic self-reflection that are essential to a thoughtful life-essential to what chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi calls a "programme of self-identification" in which our beliefs are brought to light and our self-doubts are conquered.
At Millsaps our education is, indeed, a "programme of self-identification" and a platform for personal growth. But here, there is also an incredible value-added, for we have woven into this tapestry curricular and extra-curricular threads that position our students for meaningful, result-oriented lives after college; for careers that have significance; for making a difference in the world they will inherit and lead.
What I'm describing, then, is an institution that develops worthy habits of heart and mind and that is a model of liberal arts as meaningful and transformative in and of itself and as a valuable preparation for life-a life of learning, achievement, leadership, and service.
I believe that Millsaps, at its best, is a modern day representation of the transformative path of philosophy-which is also a path of education-offered by my frequently invoked philosopher, Plato. In his well-known allegory of the cave in Book VII of the Republic, Plato analogizes the philosophical and educational process to an arduous journey in which, through revelation and reason and with the compelling assistance of a wise and principled teacher, a person makes his way out of the shadows and pretentious illusions of a cave and into a world where genuine beauty and justice are found and where a transcendent reality before and behind all things becomes known. Plato says of this transforming experience: "This, then, is not the twirling of a shell but the turning of the soul around from a day which is like night to the true day."
Plato was right; in the end, this process of turning, growth, and transformation- this process of education through grace, reason, instruction, and experience-is not something inconsequential but something fundamental and powerful; the turning of the soul-the heart and mind-around "from a day which is like night to the true day."
The Millsaps story is one of education as transformation. It's a story still in the making and one that demands a compelling vision for the future. That vision-our guiding image of success-will be, as it always has been, one of excellence as we strive to make ever stronger the quality and value of this experience.
But, I believe the vision that is coming into focus will also feature:
Our story is still in the making. And while its past and present chapters provide a firm foundation, the next chapter is unwritten and every person who loves this place has a role in the narrative to come. Ultimately, our success as a community of scholars in pursuit of excellence depends on the support of all and will be judged by how well we educate our students in the liberal arts tradition; how well we do in transforming hearts and minds in ways that will lead to good and meaningful lives.
I conclude with the words of St. Paul from his letter to the Philippians-words that reflect the finest kind of good-a good that blesses us for what it is and for what it does.
"Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you."