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030_Commencement Speech


030_Commencement Speech


This commencement speech was originally given by Dr. Charles Reuben Keyes to the Student Body of Cornell College in the Senior Chapel on May 29, 1941. The text was read by Rev. Richard Thomas at Cornell's anniversary convocation on March 30, 1978. The Senior Class requested Dr. Keyes as chapel speaker of their school chapel on occasion of his retirement. He was a member of the Miltonian Literature Society. Charles Reuben Keyes [Cornell class] '94. Professor of German 1903-1941; Alumni Professor 1912-1941; A.M. Harvard 1898; Ph.D Harvard (Cornell's first Harvard Ph.D.) Dr. Keyes was married to Sarah May Nauman, Class of 1900.


Keyes, Charles Reuben




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NOTE: This text was read by Rev. Richard Thomas at Cornell's anniversary convocation March 30, 1978.

Address given by

to the Student Body of Cornell College

Senior Chapel, May 29, 1941

Our lives are, or should be, a never-ending series of adjustments, partially physical and material, but even more essentially and importantly spiritual.

1. There are those adjustments rendered necessary on account of the new personal contacts or changes in the usual environment. One forms a new a real friendship; a man and a woman take marriage vows; a pastor or a business man moves to a new location; a boy or a girl goes to college. We all have the resultant adjustments to make. Whether easy or difficult, they should be the school in which we prepare to meet changes of possible even greater sigificance.

2. There are the adjustments that must be made if one is to meet successfully those changes that originate not in ourselves or in our personal environment, but in a changing world.

a. In our religious lives we older people, at least, and I dare say most of your fathers and mothers, have passed through the other-worldliness of the long past and emerged into the this-worldliness of the twentieth century. Whether permanent or not, and I am inclined to regard it as permanent, the change has been profound. I hardly think there has been any loss of essential values. So far as I can see, the question of immortality is not affected. And perhaps it is just as well to llo world evils straight in the face and try to do something about them rather than to regard our lives as a preparation for escape.
b. Then there are the changes that result from the pressures of scientific discovery especially in geology, biology, and anthropology. It was inevitable that old beliefs concerning the creation of the world and of man should be brought into question, that there should be the struggle of fiat versus evolution. And now that the rumble of the conflict has all but dies away, what do we see? A view that is more clear and more beautiful and, in spite of the paganisms that still persist, a rainbow on the horizon that gives promise of eventual better things.
c. Then there are those changes that result from the historical method of investigation of the documents of history, the Biblical documents, of course, included. What was to happen to faith in the literal truth and moral value of certain parts of the two Testaments? They were bound to be looked upon as human documents, not tablets handed down from the clouds. What a fine and satisfying new concept: the bloodthirstiness of much of the Old Testament could now be looked upon with a feeling of relief and the literalness of some things in the New Testament (virgin birth, miracles, a hell of eternal torment for unbelievers) could be regarded as parts of human documents that need cause no worry in the presence of the towering concept of a kingdom to be built in the hearts of men and founded on the practice of human brotherhood.


What remains than after counting all the losses, if there be such, that a changing world has brought! Well, everything that is worth while remains. Indeed, I believe that the net shifting of accounts is over to the profit side of the great book of life.

For love remains:
And man is essentially good: Just as Dr. Russell said to us in his talk last week.

The old nineteenth century started another change which has not yet borne much fruit, though destined to bear much in the days to come. The developing machine age turned the old economics of scarcity into an economics of potential plenty. An over increasing number of men and women (I wish I knew how many thousands) are pondering the deeper implications of this fact. Public expressions of a new faith, or perhaps rather of a faith renewed, are beginning to be heard. Did you hear of a conference of the heads of the English Church at Malvern, England, only a few months ago, when the leaders plainly stated their belief in the need for foundations more secure on which all of British society might rest? It was an important American who only a few days ago urged that America should help turn the present was into a struggle for an international democratic economy of abundance. There is no doubt about the existence, widespread, of the thought of a Co-operative Christian Commonwealth. One finds it in the most unlikely places, this desire for a new society, built differently from, and much better than, any society that now exists. The older generation is often blamed for passing on to the younger one a pretty bad national and international mess. But don't think, young friends, that your elders are without concern and that all have folded their hands in idleness. Basic change may not be as far distant as we generally think. In our own country, and I believe also in a number of others, a considerable part of the spiritual foundation has already been laid. But good foundations lie deep, they take time, and care and labor reveal at first nothing of the edifice that the builders have in mind.

I feel rather sure that America will be able to make needed changes by the usual democratic processes, not by methods of violence. England will be almost certain to do this, it appears, as she has generally done it through the centuries of her history. But no one is entirely sure of the times to come.

Of immediate importance it is to keep our spirits flexible, ready to influence, and to adapt ourselves to, reasonable and promising change. My observation of you makes me thing that you can do this.