Saturday, March 27, 2010

Convocation by Charles W Gilkey

I found this type-written essay among the papers of my grandfather Francis Smith “Duke” Dane. I believe that the author is Charles Whitney Gilkey, who was Dean of the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel and it appears that the text is from a convocation speech.

Charles W. Gilkey
December 15, 1935

The Road To Success

Last summer on the Maine coast we had as a ship-mate for a day, one of the younger members of the last Byrd expedition. Even on our 36 foot sailboat he showed at once the sailor’s training he had had both under MacMillan in the Arctic and Byrd in the Antarctic. He asked for my orders as captain of our little craft with a discipline, and carried them out with a promptness, which made me feel for the moment almost like an Admiral myself. Our conversation then, and around our fire that evening, ran of course to questions about Little America – and me own to its psychology. What happened among them and inside them when 70 men were shut up together through months of unbroken darkness and cold? Finally he said that I might find the best answer he could give if he loaned me his private journal, which few eyes beside his own had seen. You can guess with what interest I read every line of it written mostly by candle-light in the cold at the end of the long days’ work; but you can hardly guess with what surprise and delight I came upon the inevitable text for the Convocation sermon:
At Sea…………Nov. 15, 1933
The best commentary on that text is the life history to date of the man who wrote it. I picked up some of his history from his mother, who had been our neighbor during the previous summer when he was writing that journal at Little America; and more of it from the Head Master of the boys’ school in New England where he had been a student ten years ago. In spite of his small size and weight he had been chosen captain of the school eleven because of his cool-headed gift of leadership; and had pulled their big game literally out of the air in its closing minutes by his resourcefulness – “SUCCESS IS NOT A DESTINATION, BUT A JOURNEY.”
But the meaning of that entry was even plainer when the Head Master told me the story of his difficulties with his studies, and especially with his English. Failure in that critical subject not only cost him his school diploma, but caused him to drop out of college in his Sophomore year. And yet this boy who could not pass his courses in English, can keep a journal that can make you see sunsets in the South Pacific, and feel the hazards and labors of those anxious weeks of unloading the two ships at the Ice Barrier; can coin an epigram that none of us are likely to forget. Give the lad some vivid experience to tell about; a cause greater than himself to lose himself in; something important to say; and here in these journals he is learning to say it vividly – unforgettably. If success in the use of English consists in passing school and college courses, he never arrived at that destination; but if it consists in learning to use English effectively, here he is already far out beyond that destination, and still going on. “SUCCESS IS NOT A DESTINATION, BUT A JOURNEY.”
A still deeper meaning appears in that sentence when we look at its bearing on his search for his life-work. Like plenty of other students in this confused post-war period, Duke floundered around a long while after he left college. He could neither find the thing to do – nor could he find himself. A summer with MacMillan in the Arctic revealed his love of the sea – and his knack with dogs. This last led to a job in the camp where they were training the dogs for the Byrd expedition; and that, to the chance to go as a dog-driver. Making good in that searching test, he has come home to an highly responsible and useful business opening which may well lead out into a career almost professional in its standards and possibilities. Doubtless, like most boys in their teens, he thought of success as getting a job; but in the twenties, he has revised and enlarged his own conception of what success is. It is not so much getting a good job, as making a good life. It is “NOT A DESTINATION, BUT A JOURNEY.”
Duke took only eight words to paint that picture; but how revealing a picture it is. It shows us life as what sailors call a cruise. You choose the direction in which you want to go – perhaps even the final port where you want to arrive; wind and weather will head you off from this port, and send you into that one. It shows us life as what motorists call a long trip: you decide whether you are bound; but the detours and the state of the roads, tire and engine trouble, determine whether you can spend the night in this or that tow or inn. Still more discerningly, it shows us life and the universe as a mountain range which we explore. Seeing the summit ahead, we think it will be success to reach that; only to find when we stand on that crest a still higher one ahead… It is the same picture which Paul gave us in that great passage which Dean Brumbaugh read for our lesson… “Brethren, I count not myself… but forgetting… and reaching forth… I press on…” For such an adventurous spirit, no stopping-place is final. LIFE AT ITS BEST IS THE PURSUIT OF A FLYING GOAL: And on that view of life, “SUCCESS IS NOT A DESTINATION, BUT A JOURNEY.”
Here then are two conceptions of success; two levels on which men live life. Some of us measure it by the place where we spend the night --- as a destination, some of us by the direction in which we are moving --- as a journey. You have been long enough here at the UC to learn much about this difference as it implies to human thought and knowledge. I once heard one of the most famous scientists ever graduated here recall that about 1900 our own catalogue in physics said that all major discoveries had now been made in that field, and there remained only their application in detail. He went on to point out with delight that since then the new physics had either transcended or transformed all the supposed finalities of 1900. So you have found it here in every area of human thinking …….. But you will go out on Tuesday into a world where on every hand dogmas and prejudices and labels are being thrust on us as finalities. This will be particularly true in an election year as bitterly found as 1936. On the one side experiments will be defended as if they were panaceas; and on the other, old formulas that no longer fit in a changing world will be solemnly used to prove that the earth is flat because it still looks that way. In such times, everybody gets to look for the truth as if it were a dogma in which to spend the night. People who so think wake up sooner or later to discover that the truth is “beyond them”. Remember then from your college days that truth is the quest of a flying goal; and keep as you value your intellectual life, your freedom to do your own thinking in its pursuit. FOR SUCCESS IN THINKING “IS NOT A DESTINATION, BUT A JOURNEY.”
So.. it is also with success in working. Some of you, like Duke may have to flounder around for some time before you find a job, -- still for a man’s life-work, which in these prosaic days has too much dropped out of our vocational vocabulary. It was his “calling”; something he had heard ahead of him like a voice from the possible future; a voice like that which drew Kipling’s “Explorer” on and out into new discoveries…..
Every man’s greatest life-work is like that; and it often takes time and toil to find it. Whistler failed as a soldier and an engineer, and Brooks as a teacher, before they “found their calling”; one as an artist and the other as a preacher. One of the best-known poets in America today started out to be a lawyer --- till he discovered he could never be happy in the law, no matter how much money he made. Money and fame are comfortable inns for the night to be sure; BUT SUCCESS IN ANY REAL “CALLING” IS NOT A DESTINATION, BUT A JOURNEY.”
Still more is all this true in that area where so many of our most difficult issues lie; success in living together. Here all our social and political dogmatists are urging their particular “ism” on us as a finality. “America must choose”, said a radical preacher in NY last Sunday, “between fascism and communism.” Which reminded some of us of the remark of the negro when his preacher faced him with two roads… “one to hell and one to eternal damnation”… “Well, dis nigger takes to the woods.” You have been here long enough to know that not only fascism and communism in Europe, but capitalism and socialism and democracy itself in America, are none of them the finalities that so many people think. It is particularly important that we Americans, who carry the democratic heritage and faith forward in days when it is being so widely abandoned, should penetrate to this deeper meaning of democracy. Our fathers thought of it as a form of government, and complacently boasted that our own, in the language in which the eagle used to scream, “was both theoretically and practically perfect”. We who live in a city where so many of the processes of democracy are obviously breaking down, and so many of the methods of the dictatorship are so obviously emerging, will hardly say that. But what need we have to realize what our own TV Smith has helped so many of us to see, that democracy is also a way of life: moving forward ever toward a larger measure of justice and opportunity and participation for the common man, and of concern for each and every one of “the least of these”. In the adventure of democracy, “SUCCESS IS NOT A DESTINATION, BUT A JOURNEY.”
And Above all remember this in religion. Our age like every other is full of those who regard their creed or their church or their latest fad as a closed finality; and in strong reaction from the, those who have abandoned creed and church, faith in God and man, --- and finding no shelter in these, have lost all sense of direction and quest in life, have become spiritual defeatists, and to all the ultimate questions about the meaning of life can only shrug their shoulders and say, “What’s the use?” To both of these, Duke has pointed the way.. Faith in God and man and life itself is not a stopping-place where our questions cease. It is a way of living, wherein we move out and on the higher toward the Highest, in the faith that neither life nor death nor the universe will bring us to the end of the road. Faith in yourself and in others, in God and in immortality, is that kind of an adventure… IT IS “NOT A DESTINATION, BUT A JOURNEY.”

Retyped by Kyle Dane, March 25, 2010

1 comment:

Raquel said...

This is so interesting! And timely for you, for lots of us, actually. And how cool that someone read what Duke wrote and thought it so important to pass on to others!