Sunday, February 21, 2010
Begin by Descending
This is Mr. Weber's assembly address to the students of Pope John Paul II High School on February 23, 2010
After the president stepped down from the podium, unhappy with the speech he had just given, he said: "It's a flat failure. That speech won't scour." Even within the address itself, he had said "The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here."
Of course, President Lincoln was wrong. The "Gettysburg Address" is remembered to this day as one of the greatest speeches of our history. The occasion for the speech was the 1863 dedication of a national cemetery to bury the 7,500 killed in the Battle of Gettysburg some four months earlier. What is not well known is that despite the fact he was the sitting president, President Lincoln was not invited to be the main speaker for the dedication ceremony--a rather obvious slight. By 1963, there was a rising anti-war sentiment against the Civil War and many people blamed Lincoln for not bringing the war to a quicker conclusion.
Instead, the keynote speaker for the dedication ceremony was Edward Everett, a U.S. senator and president of Harvard University. Everett's speech, which was given just before Lincoln's in the program, lasted two hours. No one remembers it. President Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" took two and a half minutes to deliver and has been remembered ever since.
Taking my cue from Lincoln, I will here make only one comment, which comes from St. Augustine:
"Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. Do you plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility."