Listening for the Call to Service


By Dr. Nicholas Andreadis, Dean Emeritus
Delivered by Dr. Carla Koretsky, Immediate Past Dean
Lee Honors College Graduation Ceremony
December 15,  2017

Thank you for that handsome introduction.

It’s good to be back at WMU this evening and to participate in this ceremony.  Graduates, I extend my congratulations to you and to your families and friends whose support of you has been critical.

Most of you know the story of the milkman, Tevye - the exasperated father in the play Fiddler on Roof. You’ll recall that each of his daughters chooses a husband without the advice and consent of Tevye, breaking a long-standing custom. Poor Tevye laments the break in tradition in what are now famous scenes.

The Lee Honors College has its traditions as well, and its dedication to serving others is one that is practiced everyday. This commitment is encoded in the academic requirements and DNA of the college. Each of you brought to the college a history of service from National Honor Society, family tradition and your respective faith-based and other organizational affiliations.

Western Michigan University builds on this disposition of our students by offering many opportunities to give back to our community through service learning courses, alternative winter and spring break, Greek Life, and a myriad of other structured programs. Many of you distinguish yourselves and our University while undoubtedly gaining as much as giving from these experiences.

More than 350 first year honors students helped fill backpacks at the honors college’s annual Day of Service providing more than 4,000 school supplies for Kalamazoo Public Schools elementary students.

The 2013 Medallion Scholars class garnered the Kalamazoo Star Award, winning in the Outstanding College Volunteer Group category.

And the freshman honor society, Alpha Lambda Delta, is repeatedly recognized nationally for their service and civic performance. They are advised by Anthony Helms who, in 2016, was named Advisor of the Year by the Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society national organization. Please join me in thanking Anthony for his leadership and example.

I congratulate the college, faculty members and staff for making these opportunities available. I also congratulate our students for listening to the call to service. I urge each of you to tell your story of helping others in need, not to self aggrandize but to remind others that great traditions are the hallmark of a society that honors its past and our stories passed from generation to generation are the way we sustain and nurture a culture of service.

Let me describe two stories that have influenced how I have lived my life.

The first is about a about a young man from West Branch, Iowa who earned a geology degree at Stanford University. Herbert Hoover’s family lived with the principles of honesty, hard work, simplicity and generosity.

A lifelong humanitarian, Hoover was in China during the Boxer Rebellion (1900), and he organized the relief efforts for trapped foreigners. He helped Americans stranded in Europe when World War I began in 1914, and for the next three years he headed the Commission for Relief in Belgium, helping to procure food for 9 million starving Belgians. His effectiveness prompted President Woodrow Wilson to appoint Hoover as head of the American Relief Administration, which helped post-WWI Europe feed its people. Hoover recruited a volunteer force numbering in the hundreds of thousands. More than 33 million pounds of food were delivered to Europe during the war and reconstruction period. Saving millions of lives in Europe and Russia was the result of the patriotic devotion and self-sacrifice of American farmers, men, women and children.

My second example is Madeline Wright Edelman.

Ms. Edelman was born in South Carolina. A graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School, she began her career in the mid-60s and was the first black woman to practice law in the state of Mississippi. While there she directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson, Mississippi. She fought bravely for civil rights at a time when doing so was unpopular and dangerous. She was an advocate for children, the poor and minorities and she worked tirelessly on their behalf. Her greatest achievement was yet to come.

In 1973 Ms. Edelman founded the Children’s Defense Fund whose mission is to ensure every child a healthy start, a head start, a fair start, a safe start and a moral start to enable their successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

In 2000 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award. By anyone’s measure, Mrs. Edelman has lived a life of service to others.

Ms. Edelman listened for the call to service. Undoubtedly she could have had a more lucrative career in the law but for the sake of others she devoted her life. As she so elegantly said, “Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.”

Going Forward

You graduates will now begin another phase of your life where the opportunities for service remain abundant, though perhaps less perceptible in busy lives. Accordingly you must remain attentive to the needs of others without the prompts provided by the college or university.
Typically and for the rest of our lives, there are no formal requirements to command a life of service. And we should not rely on a once a year check to our favorite charity or nonprofit organization to satisfy ourselves that we’ve met our obligation.

Service should become part of your character; your identity and you should make it contagious and be a lifelong example for others. Said another way by Gandhi, “The fragrance always remains on the hand that gives the rose”.

We live in the best of times, and the worst of times; a time of wisdom and a time of foolishness. Where we end up depends on what you and I do going forward. To reclaim civility, compassion and empathy will be a long, tiresome but ultimately fulfilling effort. Tonight, I call on you, whatever your major or career aspirations, to do the heavy lifting needed.

  • If you are to be a healthcare provider, how will you ensure that the advances in medicine and science are available to all in need?
  • If you are to be a teacher, how will you help those with special needs and disadvantages to achieve their dreams and fulfill their potential?
  • If you are to enter the business world how will guide your company toward decent capitalism?
  • If you are to be an engineer or scientist, how will you ensure that new discoveries and technologies will improve lives and sustain the planet?
  • If you enter the arts, how will you elevate the human experience?
  • If you enter the law or government service and I hope many of you will, how will you ensure that our American values and the rule of law prevail for all?
  • And if you error, and we all do, err in the direction of kindness.

But as always, William Shakespeare said it more elegantly than I can in the Merchant of Venice:

"How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world."

As someone who has seen more sunrises than I will, I urge you to shine your light brightly and generously.

Thank you.