June 07, 2008
Former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright emphasized history, tolerance and responsibility, as she delivered the 163rd commencement address to 259 graduates in the Knox College Class of 2008, and an audience of several thousand more, in Galesburg, Illinois, Saturday, June 7.
Albright referred to the famous Lincoln-Douglas debate at Knox 150 years ago and added, "like Stephen Douglas, we look for temporary solutions and search for an easy way out and we are very good at finding words to justify our failures ? 'slavery is a special institution, women are the weaker sex, global warming is not really happening and torture is not torture if it is being done to somebody else'."
Albright said that throughout history people "see injustice and think it is safer to do nothing than fight for truth, simpler to put to others to point the way than blaze our own path... If your faculty has done its job, and I am sure it has, you will leave here with a gift far more valuable than knowledge... You will greet every easy answer with a question, every glib assumption with a challenge and every example of complacency with a burning passion to solve hard problems.
"You will not flinch when clear distinction is between what is right and wrong. You will fight bigotry of all kinds both around you and more importantly still, in the recesses and reflexes of your own mind. You will have the courage to confront the axis of evil: arrogance, ignorance and hate. And you will have the wisdom to recognize the best in others while always demanding the best from yourselves."
The ceremony was open to the public, drawing a crowd estimated close to 4,500 parents, friends and visitors that congregated on the south lawn of Knox's historic Old Main, the only building remaining from the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.
Knox President Roger Taylor also cited the Lincoln-Douglas debates and reminded those attending that "It was on this platform on the south lawn of Old Main on June 4, 2005 that an individual [U.S. Senator Barack Obama] who would go on to be the first African American to be nominated by a major political party for President, received an honorary degree from Knox College."
Taylor also dedicated the new roof on Old Main. The roof was damaged in 80 mph winds in a storm in August 2007.
Taylor presented Albright with the honorary doctorate of humane letters, as Sue Hulett, professor of political science and international relations, read the degree citation. Albright was recognized for being a part of a great lineage of pioneering women who have achieved high political positions.
Knox also awarded honorary doctorates to Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and Barry Bearak, a Knox graduate and Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for The New York Times.
"Knox may still be a small liberal arts school in Galesburg, Illinois, but it has always been so much more than that," said graduating senior Matthew David Cessna, selected by fellow students to be the Senior Class Speaker. "Knox is the founder of the honor code who later became the President of the United Nations General Assembly. Knox is the brave souls who took over Old Main. Knox is the candidate who took a stance against slavery. Knox is the professor who without complaint, agreed to teach you what you missed in class because your alarm didn't go off.
"Knox is the mentor who never has time but always makes it. Knox is the student leader who even in the face of great adversity sticks with his or her own convictions," Cessna said. "Knox is all the students who not only pour their heart out on the field or the courts or the theatre, but engage in thoughtful, intellectual discussions in and out of the classroom. The truth is, this list is never ending. Everyone of us, along with those that came before us, has given of ourselves in one way or another to this great college...
"Along with the claim that 'We Are Knox' comes great responsibility a responsibility to carry on the great traditions and principles on which this college was founded. I encourage the class of 2008 to reflect on these life lessons as you leave Knox and answer to the real world."
Recent commencement speakers at Knox have included Former United States President William Jefferson Clinton in 2007; political satirist Stephen Colbert in 2006; U.S. Senator Barack Obama in 2005; technology pioneer Lawrence Brilliant in 2004; and Admiral James Crowe, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in 2003.