A Few Remarks On Making A Life
BY ROBERT E. JONES, LL. D.
Editor Southwestern Christian Advocate, New Orleans, La.
[Note 49: Extracts from Commencement address delivered at Tuskegee
Institute, May 29, 1913.]
I have a story to relate, and at once I want to present to you my
hero,--a hero more inspiring than Achilles of the "Iliad," or Odysseus
of the "Odyssey," or AEneas of the "AEneid."
My hero is not a myth, not a creation of literature, not a tradition,
but not unlike the Grecian hero in that he sprung from the union of a
god and a mortal. My hero is not reckoned among the high and mighty nor
will his name ever be carved on stone or raised on bronze. Neither has
my hero accomplished startling feats. As a hero he may be a paradox.
Inconspicuous, humble in station, modest, hid far away from the
maddening, jealous, curious, bickering, taunting, striving, restless
crowd of life. Too long already I have held him from you. His name? I do
not know. His birthplace? I do not know. His age? I do not know. Is he
living now? Here my ignorance is painful. I do not know. My hero,
however, is an actual man of flesh and blood. I met him but twice in
life, but was so charmed I did not ask his name. His personality
thrilled and he in a measure has become my patron saint. He is not a
hero of large and commanding stature, but a cripple--doubly so. His arms
were palsied and turned in so that he could not use a crutch, his lower
limbs turned in also. He sat in an ordinary cane-bottomed chair and
could easily move himself about by throwing the weight of his body from
one back leg of the chair to the other, lifting the front legs at the
same time. I saw him along the train side at Spartanburg, S. C.
A beggar? No, my young friends, beggars are seldom heroes. He was a
merchant prince. He carried his goods around his neck and shoulders and
in his outer coat pockets. He was selling shoe-strings and pencils. If
you gave him a dime he would insist on your taking one or both of the
articles he had for sale. In his activities he was a fine lesson of the
first requirement of life. He was self-sustaining. By the sweat of his
brow he earned his bread.
Did he complain of his lot? Not a bit of it. His handicap he did not
make nor could undo. He therefore accepted his condition
philosophically; he was self-respecting. He knew his limitations; he
knew what he could do and what he could not do; he was self-knowing.
Knowing his handicap and that it was quite unlike any other man's and
that he needed a means of locomotion, he found it; he had, therefore,
initiative. He leaned not upon the strength of others, but used his own
resources; he was therefore self-reliant. He did not wait for business
to come to him, he put himself in the path of business; he was a
hustler. He saw life through a cheerful lens and kept a stout heart; he
was optimistic. He recognized his own personality apart from the
personalities of the crowded throng through which he passed; he was a
self-contented individual. He had but one life to live and he was making
the most of life. When I left him I crowned him, honored him, and I love
him for his worth as a true man.
"I like a man who faces what he must,
With step triumphant and a heart of cheer;
Who fights the daily battles without fear;
Nor loses faith in man; but does his best,
Nor ever murmurs at his humble lot,
But, with a smile, and words of hope, gives zest
To every toiler; he alone is great
Who by a life heroic conquers fate."
When once away from my hero, as I thought of him in my deepest soul, I
"Thou art my chastiser and my inspirator. Thou art simple yet great;
untaught thyself, thou art the teacher of all. Henceforth thou shalt be
my hero and guide. Doubting myself, bemoaning my limitations, depressed
by my failure, ashamed of my achievements, my seeing you has given me a
new interpretation of life. I own you my friend, my life's inspiration
There is my hero. You ask his color? What difference does it make? Men
have often refused to recognize worth because of color. But to satisfy
you I will tell you. He is a Negro. Give a seat of honor to my hero.
Gather inspiration and learn from him the lessons of life, if you will.
Here is an individual doubly afflicted, without a word of complaint, or
a fret or whine, depending upon his own initiative and resources, making
the most of life under the circumstances which surround him.
Upon the basis of what has been said, in closing this address to the
graduating Class of 1913 of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute
I desire to offer a personal word:
In the first place, you will know a year from now, more than you can
realize at this present moment, that this is a commencement. This is not
the climax of your life. It is but the beginning, and however
paradoxical it may seem, you are not at the top of the ladder, you are
at the foot. We are here to applaud you to-day not so much on what you
have already accomplished as to give you a send-off for the strenuous
tasks that lie before you. To be frank with you, young men and young
women, the life in earnest that awaits you without will tax every bit of
your strength. Your moral strength will be drawn upon, as well as your
Secondly; had I my way I would have each of you burn your diploma and
never refer to it as an indication of what you are and what you know. Do
not attempt to pass through the world on your diploma or your class
standing. The world cares little for these. I would urge that you prove
to the world what you are by what you can do--that you let your
achievements point to your diploma.
Thirdly; you go forth to-day as a representative of this institution,
mantled with all the sacred honors, prestige, and commendation that this
institution, State, and your admirers can bestow. See to it that you
keep the honors of this hour unsoiled and that you disgrace not the
noble history of your alma mater.
Fourthly; I do not believe that this institution is fostered with the
idea that the few students who gather here from time to time only shall
be reached. I rather suspect that the dollars that come from the State
and generous friends come with the hope that as you have been helped and
lifted to culture and refinement, you in turn will carry culture to
those who may never be permitted to stay in these walls. You are to
carry light into dark places and unto those who sit in darkness. By your
arm of strength you are to lift the poor who are beneath you. And then
your education comes not for self-culture, not for self-enjoyment, not
for self-use, but for the betterment of those who are about you.
Fifthly; you go forth as the embodiment of a new generation. You stand
to-day upon the foundation built by those who have gone before you. They
have wrought well. By their toil and suffering you are blest. You are to
carry your generation one notch higher and thus help the onward march of
the world's progress. Be thou faithful. Lift your eyes heavenward and
aspire to do the best and be the noblest according to God's heritage to
you. There are no chosen depths, no prescribed heights to which you may
"Honor and shame from no condition rise,
Act well your part, there all the honor lies."
Make the most of life!
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