Please meet my friend Calvin Mitchell. Cal grew up on his family’s cattle and sheep ranch near the tiny town of Green Forest, Arkansas; population then was 750. After his 1956 high school graduation, he went on to obtain a degree in Chemical Engineering, serve in the Army Air Defense Unit, marry his small town Arkansas sweet heart, and have successful in industry. He is the father of two successful sons and a grandfather.
Recently, Cal sent me a copy of the Valedictorian speech he delivered at his 1956 high school graduation. As I read it, I marveled at the prescience of his comments. Recall that he lived in a rural part of the country. Television was in its infancy. News sources were few and there was no Internet or social media. Yet his words were wise beyond his years. In fact, his comments would still apply if delivered today; some sixty-five years later. Here is his inspiring speech.
We, the senior class of 1956 have just completed one important phase of our education. Green Forest High School has given us a foundation for building our future, a foundation that was made possible by our parents, teachers, and friends, to whom we would like to express our deepest gratitude. With the training they have given us we hope we can more satisfactorily meet certain obligation, no matter what our vocation or other future plans may be.
I would like to deal with one of the many problems we face, that of meeting our civic obligations. Upon graduation we are faced with the problems of our adult world. We are suddenly transformed from a dependent personality to an independent one. We are no longer under the wings of our parents, teachers, and friends. We must learn to stand on our own two feet and face our personal and public responsibilities squarely. One of those responsibilities is to be a United States citizen and we must fulfill the duties of this citizenship. We can no longer depend on others to bear the problems of our community and our country. We must be able to think for ourselves and to scrutinize the controversial issues of our time. For example, we must consider such far reaching issues as foreign aid, civil defense, control of atomic power, and peaceful co-existence. For issues closer to home, we should include federal aid to schools, racial integration, farm price support, and road building needs. While in high school we learned to recognize the national and local issues and soon we will be called upon to solve them. Even though some may not continue their formal education, our process for learning must not become stale. We must keep informed concerning current affairs.
In a few short years we will have the privilege of voting, helping form community, state, and national policies. To illustrate how important this duty will be, consider some incidents in history that took place because of one single vote. Texas was admitted to the union because a miller in De Kalb county Indiana went ten minutes out of his way to cast a vote … just one vote. Thomas Jefferson was elected by one vote in the Electoral College. So were John Quincy Adams and Rutherford B. Hayes. One vote gave statehood to Idaho, California, Texas, and Washington. Voting is one thing, but voting intelligently is more important. Whom shall we choose for our state and national representatives? Will we know how to vote on important issues? Isn’t it our responsibility as a citizen to find out? In high school we learned it is our responsibility. Soon we will be able to make practical use of what we have learned. The importance of our participating in civic affairs was emphasized by our recent trip to Washington, D. C. when we saw the legislative branch of our government in action. It was brought vividly to our minds that those who are there to shape our foreign and domestic policy are there only because they were chosen by people. We are citizens of one of the more powerful, if not the most powerful nation in the world. This is a wonderful land, where if we stay on our toes, we can reach for the stars. Some of the things that make our country so great are the privileges, rights, and freedoms of the people. These privileges demand that each citizen fulfills his obligations to the best of their ability. It has been said that if the U.S. is ever destroyed, it will not be because of someone else’s bombs but because of our indifference. Let us hope that we as a class will not be indifferent but by the training given by our parents and our teachers of this school, we can fulfill our obligations and meet the challenge of community, nation, and world citizenship.
As this graduation ceremony comes to a close it is for me to say farewell on behalf of the class of 1956. Although we are leaving this school we will forever cherish the memory and many pleasant associations of our years at Green Forest High School. We will consider it an honor to become as active alumni and will ever be willing to work for the betterment of the Green Forest school system and community.