A few months ago my grandmother, Alice Lee Hedrick, sent my oldest daughter a special package containing a 100-year-old family mini-treasure trove. In that package was this photograph of her own mother, Bobbie Collier Williams (my great-grandmother), in her cap and gown where she was valedictorian of her graduating class from Martha Washington College in 1910. The package also contained her graduation cap (seen in the photo), the monogrammed lapel pin she wore (not in the photo), and the original typed script of her valedictory speech.
The world has changed immeasurably since 1910 as has the way in which our culture views women in society. This post, however, isn’t really about any of that, although there’s plenty that could be said. Instead, I’ll simply let the words of my great-grandmothers valedictory speech speak for themselves. The speech itself is not earth-shattering. It doesn’t contain any cryptic prophecies for the future, nor does it speak to any political issues of her day. It’s simply a voice from the past; one that carries with it the same sorrow of partings and hopes for the future as from 100 years ago that students graduating still feel today.
I hope this voice from the past speaks to you today. Please feel free to pass it on.
VALEDITORY TO CLASS OF ’10
Another year of our school-life is finished and many of us have come to-day for the last time. The occasion brings with it a comingled feeling of joy and sadness- joy because we have reached the goal for which we have so long been striving; sadness because of the severing of long and intimate companionships. Yet there is an end to all things “The shortest path and to the longest lane there comes and end”. The events of this day and of the past days are to be remembered and recalled with pleasure, perhaps with pride, when we have passed far down into the vale of years. As we hear the aged of to-day rehearse the scenes of their youth, so shall we revive the memories of our school when the battle of life had been fought, and we sit down to repose after the burden and the heat of the day are past. Then little incidents which seem no hardly worth telling will possess a deeper interest, and will linger longer and fondly in the imagination. To-day with its trials and it’s triumphs will be regarded as an epoch in the career of some of us; as a day worth remembering by all of us.
To you people of this historic old town, we extend the parting hand with emotions of especial regret, we came into your midst quietly, but we celebrate our departure; we came untried and unlearned, but we go bearing the marks of discipline, we came with our careers scarcely yet opened, but we go with our careers as students finished. It was to you we came as strangers seeking knowledge, friends and home. It is in your midst we have tarried thus long with pleasure and profit. To the scenes and places grown familiar to our view, which time can never efface from our hearts ‘fond recollection- good-bye. When the brows that now flush high with youthful ambition shall become withered by the advance of age, perchance we shall look back as to a bright sunbeam amid the shadows of the past, to the dear place, to these well remembered faces to which we now say – farewell.
There are those before us to-day who hold special claims upon our gratitude. To you, our beloved President, in behalf of the graduating class, I offer congratulations on the growth and increasing influence of the college to whose prosperity you are so zealously devoting your energies, and not for her sake only, but for our own as individuals shall we remember you with honor and regard for we have felt the impulse of the keen insight and the fine candor in which we have delighted, and know that you send us away with both clearer understanding and higher ideas, the farewell word we would speak to you is full of deeper meaning than we can now express.
It bears the fragrant memories of deep obligations to you for your kind words, wise suggestions, and fatherly advice.
To you, our dear teachers, at whose feet we have so often sat whose patience we have so often tried, whose best laid plans we have so often foiled by our heedlessness, yet whose labors have been impressing powerful influences on our lives- How can we voice our farewell to you? There has been the silent good-bye from many of you as we were together for the last time in your class-room, and as we turned away never more to be called up, nevermore to listen, and nevermore to think with you, the good-bye we say to you now, won then from heart to heart – farewell.
We must take our last farewell leave of you also we have been students with us. The duties which were once ours have largely become yours. To-day we leave and we leave the old college in your care. You are to walk these paths and halls when we have wandered away. You will still make the groves and halls ring with the cheers in which our voices have so often been joined. You are to have the many little incidents, the quaint experiences in class-rooms and campus such as we have had. And these things make us the more interested in you. We don’t expect to be long remembered by each of you. Our places will be taken. And, as you do the work that we have tried to do may it help you to know that you have with you in it the heartiest sympathy of those who to-day bid you farewell.
Classmates! This hallowed place holds us as its own for the last time to-day. Never again will it see us meet as we are met now. Unspeakable memories fill our hearts. The sweet scenes which are fast fading behind us pause to hold our view once more. The message which they send us falls richly upon each heart and whether or not we are saying the last good-bye to each other, we are saying good-bye to the old College days. They at least, will never come back. We cannot take leave of these familiar walls and sunder the pleasant associations which have bound us together here without acknowledging the debt of gratitude we owe to our Alma Mater. In these years we have learned to know the value of one another. We have formed the unrivaled friendships of college life. We have shared our pleasures beneath these beautiful shades and together we have read to the end of the long chapter of opportunities, and now there remains but the last brief words of farewell.
Let us not part with any false sentiment, but neither let us underestimate the sacredness of this hour. Ties beyond all measure are being severed forever. They may not concern others but they are ours.
The influences that have been wrought in our lives must be abiding forces even though the parting words must be spoken and our several paths lie in different directions henceforth. That moment has now come, and forgetting as we do all the heart wounds of class rivalry let us bear away from this place the precious casket of our strong true love, and from heart to heart, as we wait this moment let there be breathed a silent, as last good-bye.
God be with each one and if our next meeting be in the great Hereafter may an unclouded path of glorious labor, toil, and triumph lead back and back amid and beyond the scenes of time’s life to this time and this spot were now we say farewell.
(Where possible I’ve left all the original spelling intact, only taking the liberty to correct a few typographical errors, common in the days of manual typewriters.)