When you live in Gettysburg, it’s hard not to think about Abraham Lincoln. But this year I’ve been thinking about him even more than usual.
As many of you know, we begin each academic year with our First-Year Walk, where our new students retrace the steps of President Lincoln to the national cemetery to hear the Gettysburg Address. This year Chris Gwinn ’06, Supervisory Park Ranger for the division of Interpretation and Education at the Gettysburg National Military Park, spoke to our students—reminding them that during their time at Gettysburg they would be writing their stories in the same book as Lincoln. He encouraged them to find their great task, to find what their great work will be.
Then on November 19, we commemorated the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address—as we do every year in Gettysburg. I have the privilege of participating in the ceremony since Gettysburg College is one of the community partners that helps to sponsor this annual event. This year’s keynote speaker was LeVar Burton, known by many for his various television roles—his 1977 portrayal of Kunta Kinte in Roots, his role as Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and as host and producer for 23 seasons of Reading Rainbow.
Burton spoke about the parallels between our nation in 1863 and today, noting, “We are indeed a house divided.” He urged us to “find the courage and conviction to heed President Lincoln’s sage advice...to rededicate ourselves to the proposition that, in this country, all men and women are created equal and as such we are all deserving and entitled to the dignity and respect that we ourselves would want to be accorded. Otherwise, the dead which surround us here in this place will have died in vain.”
I found both of these events, centered on the words of Lincoln, to be inspiring. But my reflection on Abraham Lincoln was not limited to these two events. During the past year, as we developed a new strategic plan for Gettysburg College, over and over again we turned to his immortal words for inspiration and direction. President Lincoln’s focus on action, on the values of freedom and equality, and on positive change is every bit as relevant today as it was in 1863.
Rooted in the ideals of the Gettysburg Address, The Unfinished Work: A Strategic Direction for Gettysburg College will guide us over the next five years—advancing our students’ ability to use their education for positive impact, preparing our students for engagement in a diverse and globally-interconnected world through our focus on inclusion and internationalization, and readying our students for a fast-changing world by incorporating a spirit of innovation into the work we do here at Gettysburg.
To learn more about our new plan, our goals, and the action steps that will make this vision a reality, visit http://www.gettysburg.edu/plan/.
There is no question that our country has problems to solve, and some of those problems loom large. However, when I talk with Gettysburg students, I always feel optimistic about the future. Our students truly are the leaders of tomorrow. They are our future physicians, judges, teachers, entrepreneurs, artists, and policy-makers— committed citizens who will generate solutions, effect positive change, and ultimately help to bring our nation and our world together.
Thank you for your support of their education and their Gettysburg experience. Your support enables their preparation for the unfinished work still before us.
Janet Morgan Riggs ’77