This I Believe

Briggs, John DeQuedville


  • Headmaster of St. Paul Academy, John DeQuedville Briggs describes his beliefs in honesty, trustworthiness, and the Golden Rule; and explains how his experience of other people living by these beliefs provides him hope for the future, despite the prevailing spirit of pessimism.
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And now, This I Believe, the living philosophies of thoughtful men and women, presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. When John DeQuedville Briggs became headmaster of St. Paul Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1914, it was a small, moribund private school. When he retired from that post in 1950, he left behind him a first line, endowed preparatory school for boys, sending its graduates to this country's finest universities. Perhaps part of the reason for this success lies in John DeQuedville Briggs' balanced, thoughtful creed.
I grew up tacitly accepting, without much thought, certain old maxims: honesty is the best policy; when you have given your word, you must keep it; you should treat the other fellow as you would, yourself, be treated. Forty-four years of schoolmastering with some responsibility for bringing up and training boys, plus the business experience involved in operating an institution, have given me plenty of time and opportunity to appraise the validity of these maxims; plenty of opportunity, also, to form some opinion as to the number of people who not only believe them, but act, in general, accordingly.
In retrospect, the appraisal is more than encouraging. One cannot measure the extent to which a schoolmaster, or even a parent, can
influence the growth of character in the young. But whether or not we of this generation can do much about the next generation, I, for one, believe in that generation, because in the great majority of those young people who have passed under my care, I have found the right kind of character traits inherent. I have found this true, also, in business and administrative dealings with their elders. All this has done much to reinforce my own belief, not only in human nature, but in the eternal truth of these basic principles of morality.
Among my grandfather’s papers, there came to light three, non-consecutive copies of a Boston newspaper, under date of 1810. The editorial in the first one deplored the crazy, new political ideas. The grand old days of Washington and Jefferson were gone
forever, and the country was going to the dogs. In the second paper, the editor commented mournfully on the ominous rise in the cost of living: with eggs at 3 cents a dozen, and lamb chops at 7 cents a pound, soon nobody could eat. And in the third paper, he shook his head sadly over the delinquency of the younger generation. Truly as the preacher said, there is no new thing under the sun.
Well, perhaps some strange, political ideas are at large today, and schoolmasters can’t buy many lamb chops. As for the young people, while a very few are not all they might be, most of them are wonderful. I doubt very much whether we are headed for disaster politically, economically, or through juvenile delinquency. It is always refreshingly surprising to me how, very often, if I expect
the best from people—young or old—I get it.
The details of sectarian theology have never interested me. The form can so easily obscure the substance. To me, the substance lies in a deep respect for the Lord, and complete belief in the teaching of Christ, especially with regard to one’s relations with one’s neighbor. A Catholic friend of mine once went to a Unitarian service. Someone asked her what she was doing there. “Don’t you think,” she said, “that any church is a good place to be in?”
Those the beliefs of John DeQuedville Briggs, whose interests include botany, photography, cabinetmaking, and music, but whose first love is the preparatory school which he served as headmaster for 36 years until his retirement in 1950.