Feast of Nations 2014

Feast of Nations April 2014
At Bemidji State University, we have a new university strategic plan. In the first
part of that plan are the mission, vision, and values statements that define who
we are, what we aspire to be, and how we will operate. To me, the values
statements matter most because values define how we will live every single
minute of every single hour of every single day. Without believing in and living
our values, it is impossible to carry out the mission or realize the vision; whether
it is a university we are talking about, a business, or an individual. What you value
defines who you are, what you aspire to be, and how you live your life.
I would like you to consider 3 values that I believe are relevant now to any
organization and individual; 3 values that I believe will continue to be relevant in
tomorrow as much as they are today; 3 values that I believe are global.
Advancing human dignity. This goes directly to the U.S. constitution’s wording
that all people are created equal…all people; in all places; in every interaction;
every minute of every day. This means that we have an obligation to serve and
support others in visible ways such as helping people who are trying to rebuild
their lives after a catastrophic event; but it also means that we serve and support
others every day, every hour, every minute in not so visible ways such as having
the courage to speak up when someone tells a joke that degrades and
dehumanizes any group or individual.
You see, it’s easy to write on a piece of paper that all people are created equal
and that we wish to advance human dignity. It’s not all that difficult to get on a
bus or a plane and go spend a day helping those in need clean up after a flood,
tornado, or other disaster, then go back to your regular life.
I truly believe that what is much more difficult to do is to walk the talk of
advancing human dignity every minute of every day in all places and at all times.
Let’s look at one example.
Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery,
Alabama in 1955 when racial segregation was the norm in this country. Taking
that action is what most people know and remember and cite as an early example
of action that resulted in a turning point in the civil rights movement. However,
many don’t know that there is much more to the story than a tired, black woman
on her way home from work who didn’t want to stand up and move to the back of
the bus in order for a white man to have a seat.
Rosa Parks spent time at the Highlander School in Tennessee learning about social
activism. She studied the history of those who came before her and those who
took action to affect social change. She learned how to build networks of support
and she learned how to establish relationships with key people who could support
and sustain a movement. Then, while serving as secretary of the Montgomery
NAACP, she had the quiet courage to stand up for others. She took action and
made a stand. When she refused to give up her seat, it was a conscious, well
planned, deliberate act that put her personal safety at risk. Later, she filed a
lawsuit against the city of Montgomery, putting her life at risk, but did it to insure
that one act of defiance on her part didn’t end with that act. Her decision was
carefully and deliberately planned. She had support from a network of others
who understood that sometimes it takes a movement to change what is unjust.
You don’t have to be a Rosa Parks, but you, me, all of us need to walk the talk of
advancing human dignity every minute of every day in everything we say, in
everything we write, and in everything we do. We are a University of and for the
People. All people.
We do not exclude, we include.
Active Leadership…serving others to advance human dignity…Active leadership
requires doing something, not just studying leadership principles and talking
about how those principles might be implemented. And it doesn’t require a loud
voice or fast talk. Rosa Parks was an introvert, but she was a leader. So were
many others who worked quietly or still work quietly to change and influence, the
world…Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Maria Montessori, Theodor Geisel, Charles
Shultz, Steven Spielberg, Eleanor Roosevelt, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Steve
Wozniak, Warren Buffet, the Dalai Lama to name a few.
Their efforts support what we know about active leadership, which was echoed
by Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed,
citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." If we
are to advance human dignity, we need active leadership.
At BSU, this is why we provide multiple opportunities for students to engage in
active leadership through organizations, clubs, and activities that have shared
goals and that take collective action to make BSU and this community a better
place. Leadership skills learned through engaging in those organizations, clubs,
and activities become part of who we are, and lessons learned stay with us
throughout our lives.
Finally, the value of collaboration. This is the value of ‘we do nothing alone.’ We
are all connected, literally through the internet and figuratively as partners in
determining the future of our planet.
We have 12 partner universities in China, Malaysia, South Korea, Switzerland,
Norway, and Germany where students can spend an affordable semester abroad.
We have BSU students working and/or studying in China, Korea, England and
Spain. We have faculty going to spend a month in China this June and others
working with the Singapore Tourism Board to provide exhibit design programming
for students there. We have student internships available in China and France
with student teaching opportunities at a new International Academy in Weifang,
China beginning in the fall. Every BSU student who wants to experience a
semester abroad can afford to make that happen because of collaborations. In
return, we are an affordable university for international students ; we have
opportunities for students from those locations to come to BSU; and we expect to
grow the number of international students at BSU to over 400 within the next 5
We live in a global, interconnected world, and as a public university we must
collaborate and actively lead if we expect to advance human dignity…and more
than that…as a nation we must collaborate and actively lead if we expect to
survive as a species. Movements are the result of collaboration, and we know
that collaboration can change a life, a community, a nation, and the world.
Those are three values that I believe are the foundation for what we are trying to
build at Bemidji State University. I hope you see that those values are relevant to
your life as well.
On a final note, I want to leave a challenge:
1. Leave BSU a better place than you found it.
Thank you for being a part of BSU and enriching our classrooms and community.
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