The Legacy of The King's College: Vision Week Speech

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The following was originally delivered as a speech for the 2012 Vision Week Speech Competition. When I first got the email telling me that I was going to give a speech today, I was excited. As a debater, I was going to use my “rhetorical wizardry” to amaze you as my audience. As for content, I have my thoughts– I’m a PPE student; sometimes my thoughts are all I have.

After a day of thinking about how fun this speech would be, I actually got down to the task of writing. If I had to describe my first draft in two words, they would be “rhetorical cliché.” I talked about excellence, engagement and honor without producing anything that had profound meaning.

So I tried again, and if I had to describe my second draft in two words it’d be “rhetorical rubbish.” From my pen spewed a long string of abstract ideas with no grounding in anything tangible; I could have gotten all of that speech from our website and still not had the slightest idea what it all actually meant. This is a problem, I later learned, that everyone faces when trying to clarify just what it looks like to influence strategic institutions through a biblical worldview.

So there I was, sitting in the café on Tuesday night– far past my bedtime– with two drafts failed and nothing to show. In a fit of desperation I began to read what people in the past have said about our school's vision. I realized then that for years the question of vision, or identity, or whatever you want to call it, has haunted the great minds of this school. This question of what our school should look like has caused provosts to be hired, to be fired and to retire. King’s professors, presidents and students have bickered for years on this very subject.

At this point I realized that I face a much more basic problem: who am I, a freshman, a novice of novices, to think I have something unique to say about the vision of The King’s College?

I can’t offer anything new. It’d be arrogant of me to think that I have something original to say.

However, something must be said. And although this question is far above my non-existent pay-grade, I’ll take a stab at it.

In John Hundscheid’s vision address last year he asked, “How can the vision guarantee that the King’s of 2050 will look like the King’s of today?” My question is much more basic: how can we guarantee that there will be a King’s of 2050? What’s going to keep us from fading away like the King's of 1938?

With a vastly growing school population, we must define our student body. Two hundred and eleven new students were admitted this year alone, making this freshman class 45 percent of our population. That number is likely to rise. Being at the cusp of this restructuring, we have the opportunity to define our vision not only for ourselves, but also for all future classes.

It is here where we must realize the difference between vision and legacy. Vision is the idea of what we want to be. Legacy is what we have made ourselves to be, and as a result, what we are known for. What does it look like to live out the King’s vision? It is taking what we want to be and, through our actions, becoming known as that thing. It is taking our vision and making it legacy.

What, then, turns vision to legacy?

At one time, many of the major schools of the day had a strongly Christian vision. As Answers in Genesis [a non-profit Christian apologetics ministry] tells us, “Harvard was named after a Christian minister. Yale was started by clergymen, and Princeton’s first year of class was taught by Reverend Jonathan Dickinson. Princeton’s crest still says 'Dei sub numine viget,' which is Latin for 'Under God she flourishes.'”

There was a vision of these schools rooted in Christ; why did that vision not become their legacy? Again I ask, what turns vision to legacy?

The answer is deceptively simple; action. What turns vision into legacy is the process of taking ideas, will and intention and actually applying them to practice.

This is simple, but it calls us to reform our mindsets. We as King’s students need to stop talking and theorizing and actually make legacy. The words we use to describe what we ought to be have become utter cliché. They become masks behind which we can hide our complacency about the status quo.

There are some examples of students here who truly embody what King’s students ought to be. But for a majority of us, this is not the case.

While bearing the banner of honor, we push that word to its absolute limit. Honor has become a restriction rather than a desirable attribute. We avert challenge while still bearing the flag of excellence, making this present age our academic standard when our potential is so much higher. We often don’t engage, and if we do, we do so without any acknowledgement of our worldview. In the end, we have very little influence.

But that can change, and with the determination and potential of this student body, I believe it will change. But we must, right now, stop talking theory and start making legacy. Honor, excellence, engagement, worldview, influence– we can no longer afford to let them just be concepts. They must become reality. We have the duty to make them legacy.

I can see two futures for The King’s College.

The first is a future arising from unrepresented vision– a future where we can hide our inaction with abstraction. In this future, our school will not stand a chance against the influences of the culture. The worldview of self-centeredness will surely come to motivate our action. In this future, mediocrity will be our legacy. There will be no compelling reason for our existence as an institution.

The second is a future of embodied vision. This future begins with each of us deciding to strive more for a Christ-centered life. And through this life, all the desired attributes of The King’s College will be achieved. Honor, excellence and influence will all result when we decide to take seriously our calling not only as students, but as Christians.

Almost 2,000 years ago, Cicero summed up what I am saying better than I ever could when he said, “It is not enough to possess moral excellence as a kind of skill, unless you put it into practice. You can have a skill simply by knowing how to practice it, even if you never do; whereas moral excellence is entirely a matter of practice.”

When we decide to reject the inaction of the world and instead resolve to live out the values we possess, we will have legacy. Our vision will become legacy, and our legacy will be one of greatness.

John Sailer is a freshman in the House of Bonhoeffer.

Watch John perform his speech here.

OpinionJohn Sailer