A Vision in the Name: Vision Week Speech

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The following was originally delivered as a speech for the 2012 Vision Week Speech Competition. It amazes me that we are here right now. It amazes me that we are at the bottom of the Empire State Building. The story of The King’s College is also our story. This story of King’s is so fascinating– it is strewn with tales of financial difficulty, of merged colleges, and yet, like a phoenix, we are here, reborn from the ashes.

Today, we come and ask ourselves this question: who are we? Are we just another building? Just another school? I would submit that we are not. I want to say that our vision drives us to do something, to make ourselves great.

In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “It is not enough to be busy.” So in the end, the question is: what are we busy about?

This Vision Week, we ask ourselves these two questions: first, what is the vision, and secondly, what does that look like? I believe that in our name, we find the answer. In the name of our institution, The King’s College, we discover who we are and what we are supposed to do. So join me, and let’s look at the name to figure out what it is all about.

Let’s take a look at the first word: “the.” We might ask ourselves, what’s so important about “the?” I mean, it’s an article. But I think there’s something important about that. It’s The King’s College. Not A King’s College. The word “the” alludes to something specific. It points to another word, and that’s the way this school has always been.

We have people that have looked to others, that have put others first, far more than we know. Look at the people who founded this school and the people who supported this school. The name Percy Crawford. The name Bill Bright. Charlie Stetson, whose T.V. we walk past every single day. Do we know who he is? He is one of the first people who supported the King’s vision. He cared about who we are, and we rewarded him with a T.V. That’s it. These are the people who sacrificed and on whose shoulders we stand.

Now for the second word. What does “the” allude to? It alludes to “King’s.” It’s The King’s College. There are two things to note here. First, it is a King that we serve. Everything belongs to Him. The second thing to note is this little punctuation mark known as the apostrophe. Without that apostrophe, we could be the college of multiple kings, but we are one King’s college in one city. We are The King’s College and that apostrophe makes all the difference. It is that obedience to the King that makes us great as a school.

In the words of Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish, but happy is he who keeps the law.” The law of obedience. The law of Christ. Remember, our vision is ultimately Christ’s vision. That is the vision of this institution. It is the Gospel.

And the third word: college. College is a higher education institution. I’m sure many of us have different ideas about what education might be, but I ask you to consider two thoughts: first, college is here to glorify God. Think of the rich tradition we have built. Think of all the monks who have slaved in monasteries in France, cultivating what is now a worldwide phenomenon. But the second thing is that we are here to create whole people, to create excellent people who are able to think well, write well and speak well. To be able to unify head, hand and heart. To be able to say, as people, we will do the best we can, because it glorifies Christ.

So those implications are clear for us as a student body. For us as students, the primary goal is to learn. But not just to learn, to learn how to learn and to learn how to be a person, to learn how to act. But we are not just students. We’re students in New York City and there’s very specific importance to that because we can take what we learn, and, in the words of The King’s Debate Society, “to advocate truth to the marketplace of ideas.” We have gotten those opportunities. That is why we are here. That is why we spend so much money on this building. It is because we can dialogue on issues from politics to media to arts to culture to business. We take the sum of it all, and we say as people that we are here to renew it.

So that is the vision. It looks very easy in practice. It looks like our alumni: Amber and David Lapp and Matt Kaal at the Institute for American Values. It looks like the International Ventures classes we have going on right now. And we have City Engagement, doing work with the homeless this weekend. Those are things that look like the fulfillment of the King’s vision.

The purpose of Vision Week is to remind us of who we are and what we do. But it does not just do that. It also tells us to act. There is a saying that goes, “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” We must have both in order to succeed. We cannot simply look at the King’s vision and say, “Fantastic! That’s it!” and then leave this school and nothing happens. But we cannot just act without understanding what our vision is. And being able to articulate what this vision is is what this week is here for. When we say we want to change the world, it needs to start with us. It needs to start with the little things we deal with every single day. And I think you will hear the same thing coming from all four of us tonight, just in different ways. Because I think we all know what the vision is, and it is imbedded in our hearts. That is what brought us here, and that is what continues to drive us.

This vision, most importantly, calls us to live. That’s what draws us to King’s. This spunk, this ingenuity of this King’s College experiment, 10 years on. We do this with the core. We do this by thinking about Augustine, Madison and Hayek. We may not agree with them, but we at least engage with them critically. We wrestle with the disciplines and how they relate to what we’re supposed to do. Our story is simply a part of a larger story. Part of the greater story. It is our job to play that role well. It is our job to play our part.

Let me leave you with one last thought. Actually, a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. A quote that is so pertinent for us to consider not just this week, not just today, but as we continue through our education. When we’re stressing out for finals. When we’re welcoming new students next year: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

I pray that at the end of our story, at the end of the world’s story, that this will be true of us. That we will one day enter the gates of heaven and hear these words: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Samuel Tran is a sophomore in the House of Bonhoeffer.

Watch Samuel deliver his speech here.

OpinionSamuel Tran