News and Events
2008 Founder's Day Address by Pepperdine President Andrew Benton
September 17, 2008
We are easily transported by our senses. Smells take us home to the dinner table, sights remind us of poignant moments and special people, sounds swell the soul and cause the heart to beat just a bit faster.
The solemn celebration of this day should touch each of us in some tangible way, and I hope we all experience a measure of pride – pride in what we have chosen to do and the direction of our lives.
Some of our best moments – perhaps especially the unexpected ones – yield deep insight and inspiration. Julia Ward Howe, visiting a Union Army camp at the behest of President Abraham Lincoln, had retired for the evening. The year was 1861. The camp was located near Washington, DC, along the Potomac River, and a campfire song, “John Brown’s Body” was being sung, and the music carried in the still night air. It wasn’t the words that kept Mrs. Howe awake, it was the melody and the fact that her own, new lyrics began to flow and fit together. Rising early the next morning, she penned (and she later reflected “almost without looking at the paper”*) the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” which we just heard. For her labors, Atlantic Monthly paid her the princely sum of four dollars.
A stirred, even motivated, soul without a mission doesn’t really mean much. Marching to grand music is merely exercise without a cause or a worthy destination. Julia Ward Howe wrote her powerful lyrics not to encourage bloodshed, but to remind troops that the cause – freedom – was just and good.
Justice Clarence Thomas spoke at our law school just a few days ago. He urged law students to choose carefully a framework within which to make important decisions. Julia Ward Howe chose to follow Christ’s example, and it guided her to act selflessly and honorably in a way that inspired those of her own time and generations to come.
George Pepperdine’s words in 1937 ring clear and true: “Education should include the right outlook on life, a realization of our responsibility to society, to our country, and to God . . . young people [should] be taught that their place in the world is to serve and to give.” To the senior class whom we honor today: your place in the world will be large and so should be your service.
The magnificent hymn on which these comments center today, challenges us, in the fifth verse,
“With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.”
Julia Ward Howe urges us to embrace the transfiguring power of God. Succinctly stated: abide by His word, and devote our lives to carrying out what that word requires, described well and simply by the prophet Micah: to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.*
In this new year, may we be awakened, heart and mind, with new insights, new convictions and new commitments, and may we be changed. You can put it in a song or a poem if you wish, but I would rather you act, and let the world hear the music of your life – and be inspired.
We surround ourselves today in reds, purples, hues of blues, whites, golds, sands, and yards and yards of gold braid and velvet to remind ourselves that we here are about serious business, the important business of educating young men and women for lives of “purpose, service and leadership.” Nothing less. And someday, when our students walk across a stage much like this one, it will not be an end point, it will be only the beginning.
May God bless us all in our teaching, our living and in our learning.
*Howe, Julia Ward, Reminiscences: 1819-1899. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1899, p.275.