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Baccalaureate Address by Rear Admiral Barry C. Black, Chief of Navy Chaplains, U.S. Navy, May 18, 2003

Leaving Footprints of Integrity, Excellence and Perseverance

Barry Black

I have fallen in love with the University of Pennsylvania. I have fallen in love with this school, primarily because of three wonderful compliments that one of the parents paid me as I was coming down the elevator and heading here for Irvine. She saw me with my robe covered by my bag and she smiled and said, "Congratulations, you're graduating." Well, I was flattered, she thought I was a student, I smiled and said, "Thank you, ma'am, but I'm not a student here," and blushing almost apologetically she said, "Oh, you are a member of the faculty." Once again a great compliment. "No ma'am ," I said, "I'm not a member of the faculty," and now, she was puzzled. "You have a robe, you're not a student, you're not a member of the faculty." "Oh, ma'am, I am the baccalaureate speaker." "Desmond Tutu!" she said, "I am so delighted to meet you." Well, you know, we all look alike, but the point is, thank you for this opportunity to participate in this baccalaureate service.

I want to talk about living a life that matters. Two construction workers were taking a lunch break. One opened his lunch bag and exclaimed, "Not bologna sandwiches again! This is the third time this week I've had bologna sandwiches, I hate bologna sandwiches." His compatriot said, "Well Bob, why don't you ask your wife to fix you something different?" To which Bob responded, "I'm not married. I made these sandwiches myself."

Members of the Class of 2003, the truth of the matter is, most of the bologna we find in our lives we put there ourselves. One of the challenges of life is to ensure that we have a sufficiently ethical outlook that we do not sabotage our destiny. Recently a group of very senior citizens was surveyed. They were 95 and older, and asked the question, "If you had your life to live over again what would you do differently?" The responses were interesting because they help us to think about living a life that matters. They said, "We would take more risk." They said, "We would live a more contemplative life-style. We would think more about what is happening in our world." They said, "We would eat more ice cream and fewer beans." They said, "We would invest our lives in something that would live on after we're dead." The poet Longfellow penned the words, "lives of great men (and women I might add) all remind us, we can live our lives sublime, and departing leave behind us footprints on the sands of time."

I would like to suggest a few footprints that you need to leave. First, the footprint of integrity. The Jewish scriptures state in the first psalm, "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor siteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the lord and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water that bringeth forth its fruit in its season and its leaves also shall not wither and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." It is a description of a life of integrity. The etymology of the word, as you know, comes from the notion of "holdness." It means that there is not a chasm between our rhetoric and our actions, between the creed and the deed, between the ought and the is. And that is not an easy footprint to leave because the truth of the matter is there is a civil war going on inside of most of us. Plato described the human will as a charioteer with two headstrong horses each pulling in the opposite direction. One poet said "that the little bit of bad in the best of us and a little bit of good in the worst of us so it behooves the best of us not to talk about the rest of us." We've got challenges to face as we seek to leave the footprint of integrity. Let me suggest some lenses to use as you seek to live a life of ethical congruence. The golden rule is not a bad idea. You find it in Judaism, Islam and all of the major religions, Christianity: Treat others like you want to be treated Utilitarianism offers some notions: Do the most good for the most people. One part of Kant's categorical imperative is instructive, "Live in such a way, that your action could be made universal law." And then your founder, Benjamin Franklin, has what I call the blush test. Franklin was in London and he received a telegram, "Ben, be careful, there are spies." He sent back a telegram, "Thanks for the advice but I'm not worried for I have made it a principal of my life never to do anything in private that would make me blush if it were made public." That's the blush test. Now some of us have a rather high blush threshold, and so I say, "Never say or do anything in private that you would not want printed in the headlines of your hometown newspaper." Leave the footprint of integrity.

There is a second footprint and that is the footprint of excellence. It is a footprint that may be rather challenging for you gifted men and women to leave. For most of you are five talent individuals and quite frankly, you can go through life on automatic pilot and still receive kudos and compliments. I challenge you to not be satisfied with cruising through life. I challenge you to do your best. Compete with yourself. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, "Whatsoever thy hands find to do, do it with all thy might for there is no work nor knowledge nor device nor wisdom in the grave wither thou goeth." Proverbs Chapter 22 verse 29 says, "Show me a man or woman who excels in his or her work, he or she will stand before kings and queens and not ordinary people." Strive to leave the footprint of excellence.

I love the story that Booker Washington tells in his autobiography, Up From Slavery. He walked many miles to get to Hampton University where he desired to matriculate. He was dirty, he had not used any Right Guard, I guess it wasn't invented in those days, and the admissions officer seeing him was stunned at this sight standing before her. She knew he would certainly not be admitted without any money. He watched as she admitted others and finally to stall, as she would construct her, "you can't come here son" speech. She said, "the recitation room needs to be swept, would you do that? Then I will talk with you." Booker Washington said, "Well, I knew how to use a broom." He went into the recitation room and swept it not once but thrice and then taking a tattered handkerchief from his pocket, he dusts the room four times. He came out and said, "Ma'am, I've finished the job." She said, "Oh, you have," and taking a white handkerchief from her drawer, (it was obvious that she had done this before) she promenaded into the room and the walls, the chair, the desk, and looking she saw nothing, sheepishly, she said to this young man who was committed to excellence, "Well, I guess we'll just have to find a place for you at this school, won't we?" Leave the footprint of excellence.

Martin King was fond of saying, "Whatever job you do, do it so well, that the living, the dead, or the unborn, couldn't do it better." He liked to say, "If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go out and sweep streets like Michelangelo carved marble, sweep streets like Raphael painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, and like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say here lived a great street sweeper who swept his or her job well." Leave the footprint of excellence.

Finally, leave the footprint of perseverance. Hang in there. With your Ivy League diploma, it will still not always be easy, and you must learn to persevere. Matthew 24:13 says, "But those who endure to the end will be saved." Perseverance is an attribute that is often underestimated, a difference between success and failure is often couched in that word perseverance.

One of my favorite stories is taken from the Jewish scriptures in Genesis chapter 29; it's the story of Rachel and Leah, Jacob and Laban. Jacob, you remember the twin of Esau, was running from the homicidal intentions of his brother because he had stolen the birthright. He got to the country of Uncle Laban and there he met Rachel who was comely. The Hebrew says, beautiful of face and form, dangerous. Rachel was so beautiful, that Jacob started crying when he met her.

Now that's a pretty woman. I have met many attractive women in my life but I have never met a woman where they said, "Admiral Black this is Mrs. Smith," and I said, "Mrs. Smith" (in crying voice). Rachel was beautiful. Now Rachel had a sister, Leah. The Bible says Leah was tender eyed. The Hebrew is kind of confusing; either she had an eye disease or she was cross-eyed, a Sheneneh type regardless of how you would put. So Jacob was totally infatuated with Rachel. Laban saw the fires of passion in the eyes of Jacob and said, "son, how long are you willing to work for my daughter's hand in marriage?" Jacob quickly said, "I would work seven years for a girl like that." Laban said, "it's a deal." One of the most incredible verses in all of literature, Genesis 29:20 and Jacob worked seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. In fact, when I get to heaven, one of the first people I want to meet is Rachel. The day of the wedding arrived. The rabbi was up front, "Dearly beloved, we're gathered together in the site of God and in the presence of these witnesses to join this man and woman in the bonds of holy matrimony which is an honorable state instituted by God," Jacob said, "man it's been seven years, cut to the chase." They did the I dos. Now in that day the bride was covered with a thick veil. The veil was not removed until the marriage was consummated. I don't know what they were drinking at the wedding party but Jacob did not discover until the morning after he had not married the prepossessing Rachel but her cross-eyed older sister. And now Jacob is homicidal. "Where is Laban," he said? Laban does a verbal tap dance. "Now Jacob, I don't know how they do it where you come from, but in our country the older girl must marry first," but, says the wiley Laban, "if you will agree to work another seven years, you can have Rachel's hand as well." Now, I would have killed him on the spot, but Jacob a little more noble, leaving the footprint of integrity of course, incredible passage, Jacob worked yet another seven years.

The challenge in life is what will you do with your Leah. Those unwanted circumstances that stricture you and hem you in. What will you do with your Leah, those setbacks, those unexpected failures? Jacob discovered that Leah was not such a bad bargain after all. It was Leah, not Rachel, whom he buried at the family sepulcher at Machpelah. It was Leah, not Rachel, who gave him Rubin, Levi, and Judah. Out of whom came Moses, David, and Jesus Christ.

Members of the Class of 2003, leave your footprints on the sands of time. Live a life that matters. A life that makes a difference. Leave that footprint of integrity, leave that footprint of excellence, and when the storms of life rage, so persevere so that you can cry out with the poet;

I want to let go but I won't let go,
There are battles to fight,
By day and by night,
for God and the right and I'll never let go.
I want to let go but I won't let go,
I'm sick ‘tis true and weary and blue and
Worn through and through
But I'll never let go.
I want to let go but I won't let go,
No I will not yield,
What, lie down on the field,
And surrender my shield?
NO! I'LL NEVER let go.
I want to let go but I won't let go,
May this be your song
Mist legions of wrong,
O, God, keep you strong,
So that you will never ever let go.



  Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 34, May 27, 2003