In honor of Memorial Day, a look back at a notable commencement speech.
The College’s football and basketball captain and the Class of 1942’s valedictorian, Charles “Stubbie” Pearson ’42 addressed his classmates on May 10, 1942, the earliest commencement date in Dartmouth history. The class was the first to graduate under the College's new accelerated war program. As noted in the June 1942 issue of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, 80 percent of the class’s 444 members were already in the military or were expecting to begin active duty within the month. Pearson, the company commander of the Dartmouth Squadron of Navy fliers, started training at the Naval Air Station Squantum in June, 1942.
While away at war, he wrote letters home, one of which was cited in the January 1967 issue of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine: “Man is man where he is on the planet and whatever his creed, color or condition. In him inherently is goodness, dignity and service. He must be freed from bondage, wherever he is, bondage of the body, bondage of soul, bondage of ignorance. He must be helped, protected, fed, and permitted to grow.”
Pearson was killed in action over the Pacific on March 30, 1944.
Dartmouth, parents, friends, and classmates
We came from the far off Western plains, from the Eastern coastal cities, from the sharp and rocky mountains, from the harbors of the Pacific. The night was hot and muggy. The lights were on in Commons. The wind began to blow and there was cheering. Thrilling was the tempest with its whirlwinds and its driving rain. Trees fell upon the campus. Roofs were on the ground. So in a hurricane were we conceived and here we have grown, absorbing the nourishment of our Dartmouth, shielded from all hardship. To far off distant places we go—to Australia and to Hawaii and to Ireland—“Though round the girdled earth they roam her spell on them remains.” To the ice of the Arctic and to the ice of the Antarctic we will go. All of us—all of us together—are being born. We are entering a world nobody has ever entered before. But we are strong. We are hardy. In with a hurricane, out with a war, “stand as brother stands by brother, dare a deed for the old Mother, greet the world from the hills, with a hail.” For her sons have courage. They know the way.
Dartmouth has been four perfect years. We would not wish to change them. We could, as a body, take off our protective armor—the armor that makes our generation appear cold and hard and cruel—and become our true selfs. We could speak to you “of soft September sunsets—of the drifting beauty where the twilight streams.” We could speak “of the crunch of feet on snow—the long white afternoons, the twilight glow.” Will we ever forget them? And we could speak of nights when we have crept across the campus spellbound with the delight and ecstasy of a Dartmouth sky. But we will not. You know how we feel, for you have felt it. Parents, and those of you who do not know the College, look into our faces, observe our actions, speak to us and you will see it. We could speak to you of courses, professors, and examinations. We could tell you of the quarrels we have had with the administration, with the faculty and with ourselves. We have fought for our beliefs and principles—over Green Key and Palaeopitus—over conscription and “Now we have waited long enough”—over physical education systems and no-cut plans. We have discussed and approved the streamlined college war time semester. The world laughed as we struggled with our small and petty affairs but they were not small nor petty. This was our world. We had a right to question. It was our belief in freedom. But need we speak of such things. You and we are Dartmouth. We understand her.
In a sense life has been made much easier for us. We do not have to worry about graduate studies. We do not have to worry about finding a job. Jobs are waiting for us—tankers and cruisers are sliding down the ways—P47’s are nervously waiting at the ready line—Pensacola beckons—the battalions are calling us. We have many jobs— several years of work ahead. But then are we through—is our responsibility ended?
Dartmouth has given us formulas to use, methods to apply but the answers must be our answers. We know this. We are reaching conclusions at the present time. We have reached conclusions in the past few months. We know we must win this war. It means the birth and survival of everything we believe in. Our belief is so strong that we will fight to the end. That means we will win.
But this also we know, we know that the world is changing. That tomorrow is to be different from today even though our principle of democracy remains. We know that there will be almost insurmountable problems after this crushing affair is ended. We must meet these problems intelligently. We know we must do this. We do not know whether we will.
This is war for the future. Man must replace the importance of material gain. We must humanize ourselves. Man is man and that is all that is important.
As Robert Burns so beautifully said:
“The rank is but the guinea’s stamp; The man’s the gold for a’ that...
“Then let us pray that come it may, As come it will for all that, That over all the earth sense and worth May hold the foremost place, and all that. It’s coming yet for all that, That Man to Man, the world over, Shall brothers be for all that.”
Do not feel sorry for us. We are not sorry for ourselves. Today we are happy. We have a duty to perform and we are proud to perform it. Dartmouth, we thank you for what you have done for us. Parents, we thank you for gifts we never can repay. Now we ask you to see with us—to see, as we see, a painting which is an unpleasant picture. But we see beyond this painting and we feel in spite of all the complications, in spite of all the hardships, that out of chaos and disaster, that out of this disagreeable present a tomorrow is to come, a tomorrow with a ray of sunshine more bright than we have ever seen before but perhaps not more bright than the rays we have thought of and dreamed about. If you see, what we ourselves can bring, you too can fight this war with a zest you have never known before. You can fight with a will. You have a hope. You have a future and you know that the outcome—the new order—our new world is in our hands. We must not, we dare not fail.