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On Sept. 20, Noah Riner, student body president of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., gave a speech welcoming incoming freshmen. He emphasized the importance of character, citing the example of Jesus Christ, who “gave His life for our sin.”
The next day, the Student Assembly’s vice president for student life resigned, calling Mr. Riner’s speech “reprehensible and an abuse of power.” In the Dartmouth student newspaper, the president of a campus Jewish group wrote a column calling the speech “inappropriate,” “disrespectful” and “the complete antithesis of the values that Dartmouth espouses.” The student newspaper’s editorial board, while noting that the Ivy League college was founded in 1769 as a Christian institution, criticized Mr. Riner for “preaching his faith from a commandeered pulpit.”
The following are excerpts from Mr. Riner’s speech:
You’ve been told that you are a special class. A quick look at the statistics confirms that claim: Quite simply, you are the smartest and most diverse group of freshmen to set foot on the Dartmouth campus. You have more potential than all of the other classes. You really are special.
But it isn’t enough to be special. It isn’t enough to be talented, to be beautiful, to be smart. Generations of amazing students have come before you, and have sat in your seats. Some have been good, some have been bad. All have been special.
In fact, there’s quite a long list of very special, very corrupt people who have graduated from Dartmouth. William Walter Remington, class of 1939, started out as a Boy Scout and a choirboy and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He ended up as a Soviet spy, was convicted of perjury and beaten to death in prison.
Daniel Mason [a 1993 Dartmouth graduate] was just about to graduate from Boston Medical School when he shot two men, killing one, after a parking dispute.
Just a few weeks ago, I read … about P.J. Halas, class of 1998. His great-uncle George founded the Chicago Bears, and P.J. lived up to the family name, co-captaining the basketball team his senior year at Dartmouth and coaching at a high school team following graduation. He was also a history teacher and, this summer, he was arrested [on charges of] sexually assaulting a 15-year-old student.
These stories demonstrate that it takes more than a Dartmouth degree to build character.
As former Dartmouth President John Sloan Dickey said, at Dartmouth our business is learning. … But if all we get from this place is knowledge, we’ve missed something. There’s one subject that you won’t learn about in class, one topic that orientation didn’t cover, and that your [undergraduate adviser] won’t mention: character.
What is the purpose of our education? Why are we at Dartmouth?
Martin Luther King Jr. said: “But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. … We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”
We hear very little about character in our classrooms, yet, as Dr. King suggests, the real problem in the world is not a lack of education.
For example, in the past few weeks we’ve seen some pretty revealing things happening on the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We’ve seen acts of selfless heroism, and millions around the country have united to help the refugees.
On the other hand, we’ve been disgusted by the looting, violence and raping that took place even in the supposed refuge areas. In a time of crisis and death, people were paddling around in rafts, stealing TVs and VCRs. How could Americans go so low?
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