Carrie Chapman Catt

Baccalaureate Address at University of Wyoming - June 12, 1921

Carrie Chapman Catt
June 12, 1921— Laramie, Wyoming
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Mr. President, the Board of Trustees of the University of Wyoming, and citizens of the State:

In the beginning a Baccalaureate address was a sermon, and so, not to depart too far from the form, I have taken a text, and my text is from that wonderful Book of Proverb, Chapter twenty-nine and Verse eighteen -- "Where there is no vision, the people perish."

I am going to interpret that text to mean that where the people have no vision, the nation perishes, and if I forget to allude to my text again, you will know what I tried to say, and it won't be the first time a preacher forgot to come back to his text.

Ever since the first graduating class, the elders have been giving the graduates advice, and I predict that however long there may be graduates the elders will continue to give them advice, and the graduates will continue to pay small heed. This relation between the old and the young is natural and quite normal. Each incoming generation seems to issue a sort of challenge to the outgoing generation, as though it said, ''What a pitiful batch of things you have made: Just watch us!" And the outgoing generation, sensing that unspoken challenge, wants to rise to the defense of its own record. It wants to tell why there have been so many lost battles in the great conflict for civilization. It wants to rise to the defense of its own record. It wants to tell why there have been so many lost battles in the great conflict for civilization. It wants to tell the younger, oncoming generation what hazards there were that might have been avoided, and so this irresistible conflict between the oldsters and the youngsters is bound to continue until the end. I doubt if any young man or woman can comprehend the sincere yearning with which the college oldster wants to pass on to the college youngster some of the principles and the motives of human conduct which he thinks he has extracted from his own conflict in life. The college youth, straining at the leash which has held him so long during the business of preparedness for life, has no patience to learn more rules of the game. He has perfect confidence that he is going to know how to set right when once he has a chance, and he only needs to try. And so the elders are always hoping that someone will heed, and they will continue to advise, and the college youth will continue to spurn the counsel. And so the generations come and they go.

But even so, I shall follow the universal trend and give you some advice. I beg you, the class of 1921, to be patient, for you know that the youth of today are to be the elders of tomorrow, and in twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years from today, you yourselves will be giving addresses to graduating classes not yet born. You will then have had your fling at life. You will have had your successes and your failures, and with your soul afire with the desire to pass on to them your lessons gained by experience you will find yourself forming your address in the same old inevitable terms of advice. It cannot be helped. It comes with growing age. Why not?

In this month of June there are thousands of young men and women in these United States who are stepping out of the unworldly sphere of the college to find places in the great worldly world.

Edmund Burke said that civilization is a contract between the dead, the living, and the unborn. The living have inherited from all of the generations that have gone ahead the accumulated results of their efforts toward the development of the human race. They have died to guard that which was most sacred in that civilization and to add something to it, with the full realization that they must pass that duty on to you, and you must pass it on to the unborn. You now must guard that heritage, and you must support the best and make it better.

No generation ever came into this duty to find upon the political work table so many hard, unfinished jobs as yours, so I know that you must realize this responsibility. I never have known how long a generation is - what period of time it covers - but let us say thirty years. Then the graduates from, let us say 1910 to 1940 -- the graduates of a generation -- are bound to be the directors of the destiny of this nation. For another generation --let us say from 1940 to 1970 -­ you cannot escape it -- these graduates will then sit in the halls of Congress, in the forty-eight Legislatures; they will wear judges' robes; they will compose the faculties of the colleges; they will edit the great magazines and newspapers; they will lead the great movements of the time; they will direct the political parties. In fact, all there is that goes to making civilization they will be a part of, and probably leading these things. As they think and as they act, so will the nation be.

But there is something more. Doctor Henry Herbert Goddard, who is now the chief of the Ohio Bureau of Juvenile Research, and who served as a member of the committee on psychological examination of recruits in the United States army made a remarkable statement to the Convention of Charities and Corrections last year. Had almost any other man made that statement it might have done to have scorned it, but Doctor Goddard is so eminent an authority upon such matters that any statement he might make merits respect. I cannot quote his words but, said he, ten percent, or thereabouts, of all the population of this country makes up the class of the superman. That class is high above the average. It contains those at the top who are of the highest intelligence, and down toward the lower levels it merges into the next percent -- those able to unravel complicated propositions: those able to see into the very heart of a problem; those able to understand the meaning of social and political comments. It thinks, it knows, and it acts more or less independently. The next twenty percent are able to understand the intricacies of a situation when those intricacies have been carefully and clearly explained, but are not able to figure or work them out for themselves. And the next seventy percent includes at one extreme all of the feeble-minded, and at the top those who possess only the capacity to go through the elementary grades of the public school and to enter the high school. This seventy percent think, act, and conform their lives merely in [?] Perhaps those percent may not in the end prove to be dependable. Nevertheless, one who has approached the truth, and for the moment they will serve the purpose. I would not claim, because I do not know, that all college graduates belong to the ten percent. I believe they do. I hope they do. But I don't know. I am sure there are supermen who have never seen the inside of a college. Nevertheless, that ten percent must contain a very large percent -- practically all -- of college graduates. College graduates ought to realize the responsibility to that favored few. If again we take a generation of graduates, there is a small fraction in that ten percent who for a generation are to do the thinking for this nation, and upon the clearness of their vision and the clarity with which they are able to make their vision seen by others, and the moral earnestness in which they are able to defend their ideals, will depend absolutely the rate of progress our nation makes onward. Realizing that, who would dare not to remind college graduates that they are not as other men and women? Untold influences have combined to point out to them a destiny far higher than comes to most.

One man who loves to figure declares that each and every one of us, counting twenty generations behind us -- he evidently grew weary and went no farther back -- he said we had, each of us, a million grandfathers and a million grandmothers in these twenty generations. Oliver Wendell Holmes used to say that if you want to make the most of yourself, choose carefully your grandfather and grandmother-- while here are two million of them. Each generation had contributed something to the makeup of each and every one of you. There was something in that combination that threw you into the ten percent. You had nothing to do with it. You were born there. And there was something in your environment whatever it was, which urged you to college. You could not help it. You must go. And when you were here you were trained by men and women who are themselves the choicest product of the best educational system any country ever had, and when you go forth you become citizens of a nation which has advanced far beyond most in world and political liberty, and in the application of the principles of democracy and in the solution of those difficult problems which are now so sadly vexing the world.

There was a time when the elders would have congratulated you upon your graduation and would have urged you to live contented lives, but that was when the world did not know as much as it knows now. It knows more and it expects more, and there is a responsibility which rests upon the college graduate which was not recognized twenty, thirty, forty years ago. Why is there that responsibility? Because of the fact that we have had the greatest war in all history. Bishop Dean of Saint Paul's said the thing not long ago which, I believe, the elders of many, many nations have also been thinking, said he, "I cannot say that my generation has been a particularly happy one. It has not been altogether a successful nor a victorious one. I confess that I look forward with the direst anxiety to the journey through life which my own children must make." Why? Because war inevitably brings in its trail moral unrest and crime. All wars have been followed by this unstable financial condition and all these other disturbances -- a high cost of living, very irritating; and oppressive taxation, even more irritating. All those things have come, but there is something more, far more serious than any of these. Always at one extreme there is some group of unconstructive, ill-considered radicalism, threatening revolution and at the other a very much frightened conservation and these two combined together produce reaction in thought and inevitable pessimism in political action. It took this country thirty years to pass through that period of frightened reaction after the Civil War, and no man knows how long it will take to recover from the awful aftermath of the great war. There was one thing the world learned, and that was that a single man possessed of great power could throw the world into such wild confusion that no living man was superman enough, nor any group of men were powerful enough, to put it to order. The other day in Washington two very great Republicans, and for reasons obvious I will not give their names, were conversing with each other over this particular fact, and one said to the other, "The truth is, our party has no man big enough for the mighty tasks that are now demanded of our nation," and the other agreed with him. They were very much depressed and then they remembered something and the thought cheered them, and they said, 'Well, after all, the Democrats have no bigger men than we."

It is these things that the elders have been thinking and realizing, that they would like to pass on to you. They know how many unfinished tasks-- hard ones-- they are giving you, and they would like to make it easier for you, if they could-- to take you by the hand, as it were, and help to take you onward. It is not that they have less confidence in you, but they believe if they could only equip you with all that they would be able to lift higher the flag of progress and to carry it further.

Now, I am going to give you one piece of advice and one fact. I have no idea that I shall succeed any better than all the other elders in giving you advice but I am hoping that you may remember my fact. I beg of you, when you leave this wonderful University of Wyoming, that you will go forth determined to be men and women of vision. Now, vision is not a wild dream which comes in the night as the result of indigestion; it is not a wild fancy that is born of a disordered brain, although there are those who have charged both. It is first of all based upon earnest, sincere and thorough conviction of that vision, and is based upon a thorough understanding of the cause for which you have the vision. And with that understanding there is also the knowledge of the evolutionary processes that would lead that cause onward. It is standing upon absolute knowledge and looking into the future along a certain trail the world is bound to follow -- that is conviction -­ so to find it there must be study.

Each of you young people who go out into the world have a special bent, somehow, somewhere, there is not a single department of our development that is not at this moment in need of leaders and workers of great moral earnestness. You will find a place anywhere. I would not ask you to be reformers -- that means giving your whole life to it -- and all I am asking you is this; wherever you go, take your conviction with you all the time.

There is a Jaw of evolution - you have learned much of that during your life in college. There are some who regard it like the pull of gravitation and that it works while you sleep, but I want to tell you that evolution requires evolvers -- men and women of vision who are willing to live and to die for their cause. So I ask you to be an evolver, each of you, along the line where your conviction is strongest. Learn to think things through, to take into consideration all the facts, and especially the opinions of those who do not agree with you; and of all things make the large things look large and the little things small. The greatest secret in getting at the truth is to learn how to knock off from a proposition all the detail which has nothing to do with the proposition. When you have learned that one lesson in life you will travel along the line of your convictions five hundred times as fast.

You, the sons and daughters of Wyoming, you have the immortal example of your state to follow. When, fifty-two years age, the young territory granted the vote to women, it stood alone -- alone in all the world. In 1869 I was a young child studying geography, and I remember my map with that great yellow splotch which included Wyoming, and it was called the Great American Desert. The granting votes to women in some unknown state in that great desert had [?]. What good thing could come out of a desert? But time brought influence to Wyoming, and then the world jeered at her. I am sure there must have been men who went as delegates to political conventions and as delegates to Congress, who had hard tasks in defending the attitude of the state. To my mind it was a wonderful thing that Wyoming took that stand -- but that was not one iota compared with the fact that she never failed to stand fast. I do not know in all those years of a single instance when she faltered. The world jeered and still she stood. I remember long years ago, for an example, when I appeared in the City of Boston. A man who was interviewed by the Boston Herald, always an opposer of woman's suffrage said, and the paper so quoted him, "the Honorable Mr. So-and-So, from Cheyenne, Wyoming, declares woman suffrage is a failure", and the article said that in Wyoming, although the women had the vote, they never used it; that in Wyoming there were such mean quarrels in the family because the women voted that there was no peace or harmony; and so it went on. It appeared in the morning press. Boston was very smug in those days-- there were few who dreamed that the time would ever come when that smug city of Massachusetts would give women the vote. Followers of suffrage hastened a telegram to Cheyenne saying that this Honorable Mr. So-and-So had declared that woman suffrage was a failure in Wyoming. By noon of that day they had an answer back, and the answer was that the Honorable Mr. So-and-So was a horse thief who was convicted by a jury half of whom were women. You never knew of the effect of that little incident here or perhaps you never heard of it -- but it rang all around the world, and the name of Wyoming went with it, and the world learned there was a place where women voted. And the ridicule was on the other side. I could tell you many such instances where Wyoming stood fast, but the most crucial was when you were admitted to statehood. Congress will never, never, never take a step forward unless the constituents at home compel it to -- never forget that fact -- and Congress said to Mr. Carey, the delegate from this state and the father of your Governor, ''We will never admit Wyoming with woman suffrage in the Constitution," and Mr. Carey wrote home and asked what he should do. Wyoming stood fast and he arose in the House and said, "Wyoming bids me to say to you that she will stay out of the union a hundred years if she cannot come in with woman suffrage." And she had her statehood and she stood fast. And by and by, there were other states that caught that vision and they enfranchised their women. It took a long time, but by and by, following her immortal example, the whole nation became a unit and saw that same vision. Nations far away caught the vision, too, until now so many of them have enfranchised women that the list of lands wherein women vote numbers twenty-eight and is longer than the list of countries where they do not vote. That number will soon be twenty-nine within a few months. The British government has given to India legislative councils with the right of free government, including the right to extend suffrage to women and three of those legislative councils, representing states or provinces, have had their sitting, the last of those representing Madras, and they have enfranchised their women.

I remember as though it were but yesterday, an interview I had in the city of Calcutta with an Indian philosopher. He was clad, if such may be described, in a single strip of white cloth wound around his joints, for that is the dress of the Indian in that overheated country. He was shirtless, with a bare body, and he sat upon a table bow-legged. Were you to see such a man, were you to see him any place but in India, you would think he should be sent to the look-up. He addressed me in perfect English, and in his first sentence he quoted Emerson, and in the next he inquired about Wyoming. There are few people in other lands who know the names of our states -- forty-eight is a good many to learn-- but millions of them know about Wyoming. Many, many a press dispatch has gone the world 'round coupled with the name of Wyoming, and many times we have appealed to your high officials for information which we in turn have passed on, the last being only last week when the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the French Government applied to us for the history and the status of woman suffrage in the United States.

Following Wyoming, stand fast, when you have found your cause and your vision. The world may howl at you; it may jeer at you; it may even mob you -- such things have happened -- but in the end the world will surrender to you, and all the way through while the mob is jeering and howling at you, you know that you are right and that it will surrender. And that is your support, your protection, your daily encouragement. If I knew what to give you young people something to remember your graduation other than you will have, if I could present you an immortal gift, it would be to give you three quotations in some form that you could possess them wherever you live most of the time -- if you are in the office, upon your desk; if you are at home, in the room where you stay most, where you would see them every day, until each and every one was burned into your understanding, that you would live them all of the time.

The first comes from one of our old-time statesmen, Alexander Hamilton, much more appropriate now than when he said it. Said he, "We, the people, are the state. If laws fail to protect, it is we who fail. If injustice dwells in this land, it is we who should hang our heads in shame." For at least a generation that responsibility is to be yours; you cannot escape it.

And the next comes from the one who is usually called the greatest American -- Abraham Lincoln. It is expressed in that rough and ready English which was his characteristic -- "I do the best I know how-- the very best I can-- and I intend to keep on doing it until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong then ten angels swearing that I was right would make no difference."

And the third is from that great French philosopher who always put his thoughts in far finer English than most - Victor Hugo. "Abuses existed. I combated them. Tyrannies existed. I destroyed them. Rights and principles existed. I proclaimed and confessed them." If, when you have passed your generation of guardianship, you can say this thing of Victor Hugo, then you may know that you have lived a successful life.

And the fact that I would give you is only a simple thing. It is that as an evolver you can do nothing alone. It is only in combination with others that things may be accomplished in a nation dependent upon popular opinion. A simple vote means nothing but a block of votes means much. Therefore you must learn to work with others. I believe that it is the hardest lesson that any human being ever has to learn. Two people in a home have trouble enough to keep peace, and when it is tried to bring the majority of the hundred million of our population to a common understanding, that proposition is well-nigh overwhelming. It means that every ideal must be sacrificed for principle. You must concede; you must compromise; you must ever respect the opinions of others. Stand together; It is said, here in America, that all things come through political parties. Political parties are necessarily timid, there are too many people in them, and political parties do not take stands for great causes until something or somebody tells them to -- commands within the party or out of the party which make the demand overwhelming. When it is considered necessary that the political party move, then it does move -- then it takes action. And it is in that cause you have to serve.

I beg of you, young people, that you do not conduct yourselves like the seventy percent of the twenty percent, unless you belong there-- and if you do , then don't try to represent yourselves in the group of the ten percenters and think you can fool the world into thinking you belong to the ten percent. It cannot be done. You are ten percenters, and you cannot escape the responsibility of that conviction of circumstances that put you there. You may fill your life with money making. I don't know whether the women will come to that or not, but men do. You may fill your life with Money making and the world may call you successful for the dollars that you have [?] but if you have not compelled your community to move forward along constructive lines of progress, no matter how many dollars you may have or what other success the world may have given you, your life is a failure, for you have not fulfilled your duty to all of those grandfathers and grandmothers, to your University, to your State, and to the responsibility which was yours.

Only remember, it is not so hard a task that is yours, for the man of vision finds in that vision a buoyant, exhilarating support -- an insatiable source of courage -- that comes from no other source in life. Great duties are these, because you are coming into the responsibilities of what is the most crucial time the world has yet had -- the most difficult period. There are great joys, also, for it will be a joy to solve those unsolvable problems. There will be great battles to be fought, and you will win great victories. Only remember your class, the ten percent, that it is for your, for at least thirty years, to carry forward the flag of progress. Hold it high and carry it far;

To the right that needs assistance;
To the wrongs that need resistance;
Give yourself!

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