by Dr. John Wesley Raley, Jr.
Thank you, President Whitlock, for this signal honor, this recognition and for this proud moment for me and for my family. I am most grateful to you, our distinguished faculty and to the Board of Trustees for this great courtesy. Paraphrasing the words of President John F. Kennedy spoken on a similar occasion, I now have the best of both worlds: An OU legal education and an OBU Doctor's degree.
Though my personal pride is certainly understandable, and hopefully is forgivable, it is, nonetheless, commingled with a substantial degree of humility. For much of my early life I sat out there in the audience and watched my father officiating in the conferring of honorary degrees upon scholars and theologians of renown, denominational leaders, captains of industry and commerce, state and federal political leaders, and other men and women of great distinction. I am, therefore, humbled to now be included in this legion of honor.
At the age of seventeen years my father left the family eighty-nine acre cotton farm in Briary County, Texas, and made his way to the campus of Baylor University. He had only fourteen dollars in his pocket and his few belongings tied up in a cardboard suitcase. Some thirty years later he received an honorary doctor's degree from his alma mater. A careful study of his oil portrait hanging in the Helen Thames Raley Parlor a few steps from here will reveal a rich purple Doctor of Laws hood with just a hint of Baylor green and gold on the satin lining, contrasting with the scarlet stripes of his Doctor of Theology academic robe. He proudly wore that purple hood the remainder of his life.
I am honored and pleased to have with me this morning members of my family, my pastor, together with many friends and associates, including a delegation from Ponca City, who have come to be with me on this happy occasion. And while not present in person, two others have joined me in spirit.
Placed in one of the beautiful stained glass windows of this room one might notice a small gold sharp shooter shovel festooned in green and gold bunting representing the actual shovel my father used in the ground breaking of many of the buildings on this campus, including this one. In another window is a single pink rose, lovingly placed there by specific design as a tribute to my mother.
She was the First Lady for almost three decades, a talented and prolific published author, a gifted concert pianist, and one of the most loyal champions of this school.
Her record of consecutive attendance at OBU Commencement exercises, Convocations, and Founder's Day celebrations will never be surpassed. With an astonishing memory, she knew the names and home towns of generations of college students, and sometimes took delight at homecomings in introducing me to some of my own classmates.
Through dust, depression, debt, and war she stood faithfully in support of my father's heroic outpouring of energy in preserving the very existence of this institution. She played a prominent role during those golden post war years when a dedicated faculty was greatly expanded to accommodate a booming student enrollment, when endowment was increased, and full academic accreditation was achieved. Those were the days when the slush of mortar and the clink of brick and marble were heard prominently on the campus.
Then during those final days of sorrow and frustration, she stood fiercely loyal at the side of her fallen warrior.
One of the last things spoken to me by my father were positive words of hope, unyielding optimism, encouragement and faith.
Those were his gallant hours…and hers as well.
And so, President Whitlock, I will wear with enormous pride this hood of a Doctor of Humanities, recognizing that it is the most esteemed honor that can be bestowed by the university.
And in its acceptance, I dedicate it to the memory of the former First Lady of OBU, Helen Thames Raley.
No one would deny that my father and mother were exceptional people. In many respects they personified a magnificent era in our nation's history, that which has been called the time of the “Greatest Generation.”
With that note allow me to offer a thought to my fellow students gathered here…the first morning of a new school year. I call upon you to accept the profound reality that America is, and remains to this hour, exceptional among the nations of the world. Despite recent suggestions of others that no distinction exists between America and other counties, I assert to you that quite the contrary is true.
The United States was founded as a unique and noble experiment in self government, and this nation, under God, remains to this date, and proudly so, exceptional and justly so.
America's global generosity is unmatched. Call it international “noblesse oblige”, but this country remains preeminent in its commitment to the service of world needs and to world peace.
Americans, historically, have revered, supported and defended the freedoms indelibly inscribed in our constitution. We have held sacred the righteous cause of liberty for all, the dignity of honorable labor, and the Divinely ordained worth of the individual blessings enjoyed in this country today, but paid for over the centuries by the sweat and blood of patriots.
In this respect it is significant that in the great wars of the last century during which this nation paid an enormous price in blood and treasure, Americans fought not for the heavy tread of military conquest, or for territorial expansion, nor for commercial or political superiority.
Instead Americans waged war to defend our shores and seas from aggression and to sustain our allies. But essentially we fought for the defense and preservation of human rights, asking only in return a few acres of green meadow in which to bury our honored dead.
It is painfully evident that today we live in troubled times. This morning Russian warships, like circling vultures, are floating off the shores of bleeding and tortured Syria. Until a few years ago those waters, extending up the Dardanelles to the very entrance of the Black Sea, were patrolled unchallenged by our powerful Sixth Fleet.
Yet today, at a relatively short missile range from the cities of our most loyal ally in the Middle East, a defiant Iran is completing the production of a bomb that would fulfill its boastful threat to “wipe Israel off the map.”
In our own country, due either to costly expenditure brought about by threats of global terrorism, or because of financial folly, or a mixture of both, the United States has fallen deeply into a chasm of almost insurmountable dept, and is experiencing a chronic jobless rate not seen since the great Depression of the Thirties.
Political and cultural polarizations plague us and stifle both legislative and administrative efforts to bring relief. Some Western European nations, as well as a few of our own major cities, are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
Yet I remain convinced that America will ultimately prevail. She will again command universal respect, regain her influence, and take her rightful place of leadership among the nations of the world. The twenty five hundred year old words of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah are appropriate. America will “renew [her] strength and will rise up with wings as eagles.”
A phrase used in political rhetoric a few decades ago may now seem quaint to some and naive to others, but I earnestly believe that America is still the “Shining City on the Hill.” And she, no doubt, remains the last and best hope for those huddled and frightened masses crying for peace.
A few weeks ago in the Chambers of the U.S. Senate, an All American hero, if ever there was one, Senator John McCain, spoke these words:
“What makes America exceptional among the countries of the world is that we are bound together as citizens, not by blood or class, not by sect or ethnicity, but by a set of enduring, universal and equal rights stated as the foundation of our constitution, our laws, our citizens, and our identity.”
Therefore, let no one doubt that this blessed country in which we live is unique among the nations of the world. And if we will commit ourselves to the values, and the virtues, that were paramount at the birth of this nation, then by God's grace we will remain exceptional.
Initiative, fortitude, sacrifice, a resolve to strive for the best, a strong sense of personal responsibility, an unwavering belief in and love for this country…those were the admirable traits of the Twentieth Century's Greatest Generation.
And now, my young friends, as we begin a new century, it’s time for another.
In much the same way, and for many of the same reasons, Bison Hill is also exceptional. It is most likely that one of the major reasons for your enrolling in OBU is to accept a very unique quality found on this campus…a factor which sets it apart from many of our sister institutions of higher learning. That measure of difference is the emphasis here upon Christian education and Christian living. The values centered upon the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are the focal point of life at OBU, and the central theme of every discipline of study.
Those of us who call OBU our home are benefitted by the sacrifice of mothers and fathers of generations past. With hope in their hearts and a prayer on their lips they sowed seeds on Bison Hill that sprang forth and flourished in this garden of learning.
For almost four score years I have called this honored place my home. As a little boy I freely roamed the expanse of the campus with my Boston bulldog, Mickey.
I marched proudly around the oval behind the khaki clad Army Air Corps flight cadets during the war years.
I struggled through trigonometry and was fascinated by medieval history in the classrooms of Shawnee Hall. And though dispatched at times to the far side of the world, I have always returned in my reverie to this sanctuary of study, this campus of tranquility, this treasure trove of fond memories…this home.
In the not too distant future when the shades of evening fall, as inevitably they will, and wherever I may be, my thoughts will return to this sacred place. I will pause and reflect, and then whisper a grateful prayer…that God Bless OBU