Dr Clifton W. Potter Jr. ~ UL History Professor
Cleaning out one’s office is like an archeological dig, even if the “debris” dates back to 1965 and not to 1665. Recently I found something I “lost” twenty years ago. Now at least I know where it is, although I cannot remember why I needed it in 1999! Last week my wife, who is helping me, found a copy of the address I gave at Freshman Convocation almost forty years ago. As I read it, I realized that some of my comments are still pertinent today. I did a bit of editing to fit the limits of my column, and I trust my readers will find something of value.
How strange is this journey we shall make together over the next four years; it has already begun, and its end will be another beginning. You will surely need a guide, and what is a teacher but a guide? May you someday repeat in sincerity the words of the Psalter: “Thou, my companion, my guide, and mine own familiar friend.” May we be worthy of that trust. In a few moments we, the members of the faculty, shall promise many things to the Class of 1983, but shall we agree in the silence of our own hearts to be companions, to be friends? Can we ever say that to each other? We should always be students; once we cease to be, we have betrayed our calling—our art. Yes, it is an art, this exercise we call teaching. We can master all the theories and dangle the alphabet after our names, but if the spark of inspiration is not part of us, all the classes and degrees avail us nothing, and all our years are wasted. The teacher that is willing to be a guide, a companion, and a friend on this journey can exercise an influence far beyond the walls of the classroom. In the words of Henry Adams “a teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
And so we begin our journey over ground long familiar to our guide, but ever new. But where are we going? Do not be fooled by the myth of the ivory tower; in this small world of ours we are not immune to disappointment and pain. Learning is not child’s play; we cannot learn without pain. During your years at the University of Lynchburg you may encounter indifference from a professor or a fellow student so cruel that it may break your heart. We are only human, but friends forgive—and forget. You may know the weariness during our long journey which numbs your spirit, a despair that can try your mind—but you may also be surprised by joy—the joy of learning for itself alone. Like the weary traveler who struggles through an impassable terrain, you may suddenly be greeted by a vista of some part of this country of ours that makes the difficulties bearable. Together we are seeking truth wherever it may lead, because only then can we really be free. What is truth? What is freedom? Each of you will, I trust, define those terms for yourselves; we are only the guides, you are the wayfarers.
The pages are yellow now, but the sentiments are still fresh. Who knows what I shall find in the coming weeks.