A Proper Education

Everett, John Rutherford


  • John R. Everett, president of Hollins College, describes his understanding of the value of dignity and feels that "human dignity" is the birthright of every person and that it is through education that this dignity can be preserved despite the tendecny to lose sight of it as one traverses through life.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. John R. Everett became the president of Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia when he was 31. He was born in Portland, Oregon, worked summers as a resort hotel manager, while attending Park College, and took his PhD at Columbia University, where he later became chairman of the Philosophy Department. For the past two years he has been a United States delegate to UNESCO conferences. Here is Dr. John R. Everett.
I am by training a teacher of philosophy, by accident a college president, and by nature concerned with questions which have no final answers. My life thus far has been cast in surroundings which are physically agreeable and pleasant, but intellectually and spiritually disturbing. The net result of this life is not yet known, but certain beliefs and convictions have become dominant and seem to be permanent and definite.
A professional teacher of philosophy begins with the rich variety which man’s cultural heritage has deposited to the account of the present generation. This treasure is at first so confusing that each student acts like the pauper who suddenly falls into a goldmine.
He picks up the gaudiest and most glittering surface pieces and tries to determine value by appearance rather than knowledge. The new gold also seems to solve all the real or fancied problems which always beset the minds and hearts of men.
After the first blaze of glorious salvation, both the pauper and the student begin the slow return to reality. The pauper becomes aware of the difference between true gold and glitter, of the hard labor necessary to separate the valuable ore from the dross, and of the manifold new problems which the gold will create but not solve. The student begins to learn that the achievements of the past will be only a help and not a solution for the present and the future.
Out of this experience of disillusionment, certain beliefs have come to me. I have learned that human life has the power not only to preserve itself in times of adversity, but also to create new beauty, discover new truth, and embrace new and more enduring satisfactions. From these things, I have become utterly convinced that human life has a dignity and a grandeur which should perpetually unfold themselves across the pages of history.
As I watch students of each new generation reach for quick and easy solutions for life’s problems, I am constantly impressed with the absolute importance of those who presume to guide and teach. All youth seems to start out the same, but much of the potential human strength is lost with the first taste of necessary disillusionment.
The dignity and glory, which is the birthright of every individual, can be and often is sold to appease the angry frustrations of parents and teachers.
I suppose it is this conviction which leads me into teaching and college administration. I am so convinced that human life need not be filled with dark fears, unassuaged longings, and irrational violence that I find myself unable to refrain from doing what I can where the issue seems most crucial and most effectively joined.
Even though the eternal questions concerning God, freedom, and immortality seem as incapable of rational solution as they did in my early student days, I have no doubts regarding the possibility and necessity of preserving and enhancing the human dignity.
This dignity is always crushed by fear of the future, frustration in the present, and a misunderstanding of the past.
A proper education should be capable of fashioning a weapon which will strike mortal blows at these three enemies of man’s peace, progress, and happiness. I’m sure that any one person’s contribution is small and limited, but I am equally sure that all contributions to the dignity of man are significant, eternally valid, and absolutely necessary.
Those were the beliefs of John R. Everett, president of Hollins College of Roanoke, Virginia.