When a college observes birthday celebrations and anniversaries, more is going on than merry making. Such occasions are almost always symbolic and carry special messages.
During the early weeks of this new year, Berry celebrated two notable anniversaries, one of them our Founder's Day. The other was the national holiday that recognized the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We should think of both events as parts of larger, national commitments.
For years, Founder's Day at Berry College has been a time of thanksgiving as well as recommitment. This event helps to focus our attention on the founding mission of the college, on our highest ideals and on our responsibility to live up to the principles that have always guided us. We celebrate the birthday of Dr. King to emphasize the message he brought as well as his leadership as a national figure.
Martha Berry loved a celebration. She enjoyed hearing the band play and seeing the students all brushed and polished and lined up for a procession. The most recent Founder's Day was one to remember, and I am certain Martha Berry would have enjoyed it. On Jan. 13, 1902, Miss Berry and her first students began the journey that has led us to where we are today. This past Jan. 13, we began a series of Centennial observances that will continue throughout the year.
The theme for our college in our Centennial year is "a foundation for life." That theme should remind us of not only of the founding principles upon which Martha Berry built her schools but also of the purpose of a liberal arts education in the 21st century.
Among the lessons taught at the Berry Schools a century ago were survival skills, life skills. In the first days of the school, Martha Berry taught hygiene as well as good work habits, table manners as well as vocational skills. She taught reading, writing and arithmetic to youngsters who lacked those skills and saw that they were taught woodworking and bricklaying, as well as modern agricultural practices.
In one famous story, Martha Berry even taught her early pupils that all worthwhile work is dignified. The boys thought washing clothes was girls' work, and they refused to do their own laundry. Miss Berry rolled up her sleeves and started the washing herself and, in a few moments, had shamed the lads into doing their part. No honest labor is beneath anyone.
We should remember that, even all those years ago, a Berry education went well beyond survival skills. From the earliest days, the educational program addressed the head, the heart, as well as the hands: intellectual growth and development, moral and spiritual growth, as well as lessons learned from worthwhile work done well, approaches that continue to work well in this age of science and technology.
Our celebration of Founder's Day 2002 was very much a celebration of education as a foundation for life. The day began with a chapel service that focused upon our Christian founding and explored our continuing commitment to matters of the spirit or the education of the heart. At lunch, we took a close look at academic programs and those who lead our academic enterprise. Our provost and academic deans spoke powerfully to the intellectual mission of Berry College.
In the convocation that followed lunch, we addressed the education of the hands. In this case, the education of the hands focused upon the work of two notable public figures. Georgia's senior U.S. Senator Max Cleland brought greetings from the people of Georgia and the United States as he addressed issues of importance to the Senate and the nation. Dr. Ann Fite Whitaker (61C) spoke of her work at NASA and the space program and lessons she had learned as a Berry student in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Founder's Day concluded with Voices of the Past, which featured Professor Emerita Evelyn Pendley's (34H, 38C) poetic journey through Berry lore. Alumni representing classes from the 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond took the parts of major figures from Berry history. One of the major themes of this historical overview was service. All Berry people know that our purpose is not to be ministered unto, but to minister.
We did have a grand anniversary party on Founder's Day 2002. This was a day of commitment to sustaining our founder's mission throughout the century ahead. Our students were brushed and polished, our musicians performed admirably, and we had a celebration to remember. It was great fun.
A week after Founder's Day, we observed another celebration, this one a national holiday. The birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has become widely observed with religious services, speeches and other events that catch the spirit of the occasion. The city of Rome held events over a three-day period. For several years now, the Berry Black Student Alliance has sponsored a talent show that brings together performers both from the campus and wider community. More recently, we have held special college chapel services during which we hear a sermon from a visiting pastor. This year's speaker was one of Berry's own, the Rev. Timothy McDonald III (75C) of Atlanta.
Dr. King's message endures because it transcends political struggle, although it was indeed a powerful message about a particular historical event. His was also a moral and spiritual message, one that Dr. King felt came from the heart of his Christian ministry. When Dr. King quoted scripture, saying "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream" (Amos 5:24), he spoke at once to social and political conflicts of his own time as well as to living righteously as a Christian. While the specific events of Dr. King's own time may seem remote to some Americans, related social and moral issues persist. These are not merely issues of interest to African Americans but to all Americans. That is why many of us pause during King birthday observances to meditate upon justice and righteousness.
Martha Berry thought of her work as an extension of her faith. Dr. King took on leadership of a social movement because of his vocation as a pastor. It is good each January to reflect upon the lives of both of these extraordinary people and to learn from their examples.
Dr. Scott Colley
Berry College President