When retiring Rollins College President Hamilton Holt spoke at his final commencement ceremony in June 1949, he shared with faculty, students, trustees and community leaders many nuggets of wisdom that are as applicable today as when he uttered them more than 70 years ago.
I read many Holt speeches, interviews and articles while researching an upcoming book entitled Rollins After Dark. The book is subtitled The Hamilton Holt School and Continuing Education: A Nontraditional Journey, and it will be available when the Holt School celebrates its 60th anniversary later this year.
The Holt School, of course, is the college’s venerable evening program, which was renamed for the legendary president in 1987. But adult education at Rollins dates to the winter of 1936, when it could be more accurately described as a high-minded holiday for scholarly snowbirds.
The entire story of the college’s various evening programs — which is filled with twists and turns and populated by interesting characters – is in Rollins After Dark, about which details are forthcoming. I promise it will be an interesting read.
In the meantime, I thought it would be interesting to share some excerpts from Holt’s farewell address to the small college he loved:
To the trustees: Make the chief aim of your stewardship the maintenance of greater and ever greater security and freedom of the faculty, staff and student body. After all, those are the chief reasons for your existence.
Keep the college small but make it a great small college. Material growth for its own sake is only a confusion of greatness with bigness. Do not curtail the powers you have wisely delegated in bylaws to the faculty. Continue to grant them complete supervision over the curriculum and the students. Never dismiss a faculty member because his views differ from yours, unless you would be willing in turn for a majority of faculty to dismiss one of you for your opinions.”
Fill vacancies on the board with young, vital and liberal men and women of both achievement and promise. Otherwise your board will grow conservative with the passing years and reactionary. Businessmen are essential to any well-balanced board of trustees but keep them in the minority. Rollins is an educational institution, not a bank or a department store. Imagine a successful business concern filling its board with educators.
When the president and the faculty break new paths, do not become frightened just because some powerful institutions like Harvard or the Rockefeller Foundation or the American Council on Education raise their eyebrows. Welcome advice but think and act for yourselves.
To the faculty: Seek truth wherever truth is found; follow truth wherever truth may lead; teach truth and nothing but the truth. Achieve and hold your mastery of your chosen art or science. Break paths bravely where you may. Follow humbly where you must. You promised all these things when you were installed in the faculty, but you may have forgotten them.”
Teach students rather than subjects. Give students the same courtesy, respect and affection that you crave of them. Minimize marks, grades, recitations, lectures, examinations, certificates, diplomas and degrees. Maximize personal contacts within and without the classroom. Imitate Socrates. You may get a Plato.
Cut our cliques, gripes, gossip, pedantry and highbrowism — the chief of faculty sins. Jesus preached to the multitude, taught his disciples and cast out devils. Follow His example: lecture to the many; teach the few; wrestle with the individual. The three paramount functions of a faculty are teaching, research and public service. But the greatest of these is teaching.”
To the students: I have learned more from you than you have learned from me. Youth is idealistic; age is cynical. You think success is beckoning you; that you will be happily married; that you will be healthy, wealthy and wise. Keep on thinking these things, for faith moves mountains and faith will make them come true.
You have not yet gained the wisdom we have, for wisdom comes from experience. So, I do not blame you for not having much wisdom. But I do blame myself and people my age for losing their idealism. You have helped me keep my idealism.
For those of you who are graduating into the world, where realities pervade, I wish you all happiness and success. But do not expect to be treated as grownups by older people until you are about 30 years of age. And do not expect results without sustained effort. Nothing in life worthwhile has come easily.
No college can educate you. All college is self-education. The college can stimulate, advise and point the way. But the path must be trod by you. Major in courses that you like and therefore come most easily. Minor in the courses you dislike and therefore come the hardest. Choose the professor rather than the course. The professor may be alive!
I shall miss you, my sons and daughters, in the coming days. I shall miss your happy laughter coming through the open windows of my office. I shall miss the waving of your hands as we pass on the campus. I shall miss the quiet talks I have had in my home with you, whether singly or in groups. Write me sometimes and tell me of your trials and triumphs. May the latter far exceed the former.
Holt, a fascinating character in his own right, died two years after stepping down. But his spirit still infuses the Rollins ethos. I hope Rollins After Dark will reintroduce the most consequential educator in the college’s history long to students and the community. Perhaps, like me, you’ll wish you could have spent some one-on-one time with him solving the world’s problems.