1991 WFU Commencement
May 21, 1991
Dr. Thomas K. Hearn, Jr.
President, Wake Forest University
Today with your families, friends and classmates, each of you celebrates a personal milestone. Wake Forest will remain one of the decisive stopovers on your life’s journey. The degree you receive today is one of the permanent and important facts of your biography. You leave for new and challenging destinations. Our aim has been to prepare you for that further journey. We bless and honor you. We are grateful for that part of you which joins our common legacy. We hope that you will return to us often, for Wake Forest also has a further destination. As we journey on, let us journey together.
There is greater reason than usual to celebrate on this occasion. A few weeks ago we believed you would be graduating with our nation at war. Some of you would have gone to battle directly. All of you would have felt the intervention of the war in your lives and in the lives of those you love. Your graduation would have had a somber rather than a joyous tone.
You will remember we held a service in Wait Chapel at the beginning of the Persian Gulf War. The most touching moment was when we heard from the rostrum the names of those Wake Foresters already in peril. Then individuals in the audience rose to speak the names of additional friends and family that each might be remembered by name.
I was struck by the frightening number of names that were spoken and by the realization anew that when the nation goes to war, it sends its young — its future, its promise, its hope. I was reminded of the cynics’ maxim that the old declare war and send the young to die. How grateful we are that the names posted in Benson Center are coming down. How grateful we are that you are not headed to war, that you can celebrate today.
There is yet another reason for celebration at this graduation. Just over a year, we thought you would graduate to a world locked in intractable conflict. Europe and much of the world were divided between the forces of Communism and Democracy, led by the Soviet Union and the United States. We feared the Soviet Union and Communism for half a century, to the point at times of national hysteria. We regarded Communism as a threat to freedom everywhere, half believing ourselves in its own dire predictions of ultimate world domination. But as you graduate, the Soviet Union is in a state of disarray and potential disunion. Its very survival is in doubt. Eastern Europe is politically free. The Warsaw Pact is disbanded. Germany is reunited. Communism has been shown to be nothing but empty ideology supported by tyranny. These remarkable events have altered the course of history. You graduates will live in a new era. This, too, is a reason to celebrate. The cold war, waged for half a century, has also ended.
The war in the Persian Gulf has ended. Our troops are coming home in victory. America has new heroes. Perhaps for the first time since my boyhood — when our national heroes were World War II generals — the nation is honoring its warrior leaders and heroes. Even more important, the larger and frightening contest between this nation and the Soviet Union, a conflict fraught with danger of a nuclear holocaust, is ending. This brief armed conflict and the long cold war are both ended — ostensibly in victory.
But as recent events make painfully clear, peace does not come when war ends. The agony of Iraq is as doubtless greater now than when the Allied War machine was trained upon it in full fury. Rebellion, the flight of refugees, and the continued wrath of a tyrant have made peace as horrendous as war.
In Europe, the changes of the past year brought hope, even euphoria. The Berlin Wall came down as the young danced and drank champagne, but East Germany is now in economic chaos. “Perestroika” and “Glastnost” were words of hope, but the Republics of the Soviet Union are demanding political and economic independence, and ancient ethnic and political feuds are erupting. Upheaval, not progress, is everywhere. There are new and dangerous threats of instability. The expectation that political change would bring economic prosperity has been dashed. Russia is being given food aid. There is no bread and milk in Moscow’s stores. The erstwhile superpower is a beggar at the world’s table. An economic transformation must be effected in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe for which there is no precedent in history. What does victory mean?
The cold war may be over, but peace has not begun. Mistake me not, we have much today to celebrate. The ending of war is a monumental achievement. Generations of doomsayers, who predicted a cataclysmic nuclear conflict between the superpowers, have been silenced. The end of armed conflict and the cold war means at least that the world of peace can begin. That work now falls to you. As you lead the nation into the new century, your task is to work the work of peace—to make real the ancient dreams of humanity for peace and plenty.
That task begins by creating an evolving sense of humanity as a single family inhabiting a single fragile home we call the Earth. The service of this great family is inscribed on the seal of your diploma as the very purpose of Wake Forest — Pro Humanitate. What has been our motto and our ideal since 1834 is now required to become fact rather than principle, if the complete war you must now wage for peace is to be won. Never have this institution’s seal and promise been so apt for a generation of its graduates.
The ultimate test of your education at Wake Forest will be its adequacy to this remarkable challenge. May Pro Humanitate not be a token on the seal of your diploma on your home or office wall — but a guide to your life as the nation and world turn to your generation for new initiative and leadership.