Every year at this time, our country looks back on the eloquent words, brave actions and lasting impact of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While Dr. King’s work and that of his contemporaries deserve our attention all year through, I appreciate how the recognition of his birthday prompts a more focused reflection on his legacy and insights.
Like so many of you, I find it very easy to speak to the appeal of Dr. King’s charisma and brilliant thoughts. He was a dazzling orator and champion of justice whose poetic, impassioned words moved millions to share his “dream”; to behold the view from the “mountaintop”; and to use the undeniable force of love to drive out hate. And, while he wrote some of the most inspiring speeches of all time, he also offered simple and practical nuggets of wisdom that were just as timeless and impactful. Consider, for example, this statement from The Purpose of Education, an article he penned as a college student: “Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”
As the president of Park University, I willingly accept our university’s charge to transform lives through accessible, student-centered, quality higher education. Providing the types of programs, services and opportunities that prepare our students for a lifetime of leadership and service is core to our mission and speaks directly to the legacy I hope to leave in the world. Still, Dr. King’s words remind me that helping students to gain access to skilled professors, proper learning materials, and modern amenities is only a portion of what’s necessary for true learning to take root.
Character is critical.
Character is the set of unique attributes that we each bring to our life’s experiences. It adjusts the lens through which we view the world and is the map by which we navigate every opportunity and hardship. It is our honesty, determination, grit and resilience—or it can be the opposite of those attributes. Either way, it matters everywhere we go: in the classroom, in the workplace, in relationships and in service to others. Character mattered in 1947, when Dr. King first wrote these words—and it still matters in 2018.
As we commemorate the birthday of Dr. King this year, I can think of no better way to honor him than to find new ways to celebrate the content of someone else’s character while continually striving to strengthen our own. In fact, I’d argue that this is another exercise that deserves our attention the whole year through.
Greg R. Gunderson, Ph.D.
President, Park University