02.22.06

Senator Burr’s Remarks to the Wake Forest University Founders’ Day Convocation

To hear Senator Burr's remarks click here.

Thank you. Thank you for that very warm welcome. President Hatch, thank you for that very kind introduction. President Hearn, faculty, trustees, students, guests, this is an absolute privilege and an honor to be asked to be here. I am humbled with this institution, its great history, and its tradition.

As I prepared for this morning's remarks, I was reminded to look back at the beginning: 1834, the Wake Forest Institute, to try to understand what the vision was that was seen then, and I think President Hatch summed it up very well. It was to be the best at what we do at this institution; to make sure that we turn out the finest product that, in fact, we can educate. Through the history of Wake Forest, it has added numerous new centers of excellence throughout the years with that single goal in mind: to be the best, to produce the finest. This is a great day to remember the founders of this institution, but more importantly, to also recognize the lives that have been affected by this institution.

Now, had I known then what I know now, the decision to come here might have been much easier for me. You see, I was just a football recruit. They don't consider us to be too smart. [laughter] On top of that, my parents were nice enough to move to Faculty Drive shortly before my consideration as to whether I would go to Wake Forest, just to be a little bit closer in case I made that decision. Well, I made the decision to come here. I have never regretted, regardless of the record of the football teams the years that I served. [laughter] And as we walked in, I said to the President, I looked over at Huffman Dorm; it brings back tremendous memories because in Huffman, it was the football dorm. It was where they corralled us away from the population. It was a unique atmosphere to go through this institution in. And to balance my life in football was my membership to the Kappa Sig fraternity, one that has proven to bring me friends and brothers across this country still today. But it was challenging come that time in the evening after the football training table when it became time to study. Do you stay in the football dorm, or do you go to the Kappa Sig house? You see, at Wake Forest the library was too crowded for me to study. [laughter]

Three operations later, President Hatch, Business seemed like a much better profession for me than athletics. But clearly it was the academic foundation that Wake Forest was able to provide to me that is absolutely so special today. This institution that I love gave me the opportunity as an individual to succeed. It gave me the freedom within the confines of this campus to grow up. It provided for me friendships that have transferred for a lifetime. How can I say this? Because I truly believe that I've seen the heart of Wake Forest University, and I truly believe that those that are here today understand the heart of this institution, or in fact, you would not be here.

/Today, we live in historic times. Historic times for individuals, for institutions, and for a country in the world. For some in this room, you were here to see the transition from the radio to the television, to actually see what you had listened to before. Not a student on this campus was here for the development of the desktop computer. How difficult is that to believe? The laptop computer might have come into its own about the time the seniors in this year's graduating class were born. Followed by the internet, cell phones, and camera phones, the hottest thing that everybody carries in their pocket today, but only surpassed now by a device called the iPod, that none of us can figure out exactly what it does. [laughter]

As an institution, a rich history, a history of challenges and changes: a new campus, a move, competition, a shift from a traditional North Carolina solicitation of students to fill these great halls to a national and international search for the best and the brightest. The technological changes affected the institution, and as this institution has in its past, it addressed it by being the first in the country to assign every freshman a laptop computer, an infrastructure that is challenged because of the space, whether you're at the law school, the business school, or the undergraduate academic facilities. A human face of a student population that has shifted from a balance between eastern North Carolina and Chicago, Illinois, to one that is represented by countries around the world, and in fact, students that are here for the commitment of our founding fathers, which is to make them the best. And a make-up that has changed the job opportunities not just in America, but the job opportunities around the world that these students will, in fact, compete for.

As a country, we've seen the world change. We've seen Eastern Europe transition. We have seen the people of Eastern Europe become free in our lifetime, free to elect, democratically, their representatives. In a global economy that continues to grow we see an international demand for a limited number of natural resources, and we are reminded that we are stewards of what we've inherited. We've seen democracy grow, and we have seen disease disregard any historical boundaries. We have seen things like SARS, eboli, bird flu, that aren't confined because of artificial boundaries, but now move with a mobile population in a world that no longer has challenges that are limited to one country or another, but are truly challenges that face the world. We have seen global instability come from unsuspecting groups. We have seen in our lifetimes a new face of terrorism, one unlike any that we've seen in our history.

Some think that historic times produce debate, controversy, and divisiveness. I think they're probably right, but I'd prefer not to get bogged down with the debate and the controversy and the divisiveness. I'd rather focus on the opportunities that change and challenge present all of us. We produced opportunities from historic times, and the question for you today and for this country and for the world is what will we do as individuals, as an institution, as a country. Do we pull back or do we engage? What role do you and what role should the country play? What should guide us as Americans as to how we respond?

I would suggest to you today that it's history; that it is in fact our history that should guide this country, specifically that document that we call The Constitution; that document that was written by our founding fathers at a very challenging time when they clearly understood the stakes and realized that they could influence the future with that particular document. There was no greater divisive period or period of debate or controversy, I believe in history, than the period of Abraham Lincoln: The Civil War, a war where the north fought against the south, where states fought against states, where families fought families.

One of the greatest privileges that I have is an unlimited access to the United States Capitol, another institution of rich history and great tradition. Some in this room have had the opportunity to visit that institution at night with me when nobody else is there, to stand in the House chamber and to look up at that gallery that the President, once a year, delivers his State of the Union Address, and every visiting dignitary, head of state has the opportunity to address this nation; to walk into Statuary Hall where the House used to meet and to stand on that spot where John Quincy Adams desk stood at when he was in the House of Representatives after he was President of the United States; to walk into that great rotunda and to look up 182 feet at that painting, that fresco, that was painted by Constantino Brumidi, the artist of the Capitol, and completed in 1865, a fresco that in five scenes depicts American history up to that point better than many textbooks that we find in school today; to walk down to the Senate side of the United States Capitol to breeze through the Senate Chamber and to find off to the side in the back the most ornate room in the United States Capitol, the President's room, specifically built for the President to come to Congress to sign the bills into law, probably five bills the first year that Lincoln did it, the first piece of legislation was the legislation to free the slaves; to walk out onto the Speaker's balcony and to look down at America and to wonder "What did Abraham Lincoln think when he looked out after the Civil War," an opportunity as the person who won to truly be punitive, to exclude a population, but not Lincoln. Lincoln gave speeches about uniting the nation, about one nation.

You see, I would contend today that Abraham Lincoln was driven by The Constitution; that he understood for a country to progress forward, you had to unite a country first. The challenge for Abraham Lincoln was not one any different than we're faced with today. Today, we once again are divided, engaged in debate. That debate could come from the outcome of elections. I would contend to you that when winning at any cost is in fact the strategy, we need to reevaluate the way we structure the game. The big issues of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and you can fill the list in; they now affect us and not somebody else. War is never a comfortable thing, and I will assure you, it is not an easy decision. But it does bring with it controversy and debate, and we have seen divisiveness result, and judicial decisions of the magnitude that we've seen the last six months in the United States.

It's appropriate for us to have the debate. It is also prudent for us to remember the structure that our founding fathers set and their hope that it would serve as our guide. There's no doubt in my mind that Abraham Lincoln read the Constitution before he gave the speeches after the Civil War. I'm reminded of President Reagan's remarks when he said he never could understand what it was about the U.S. Constitution that was so special. It wasn't until he read everybody else's that he understood what was so special about ours. Theirs starts with the government, ours starts with the people. There's a huge difference in how you proceed forward under those guidelines. Thomas Jefferson said "I'm not an advocate of frequent changes in laws and Constitutions, but laws and institutions must advance to keep pace with the progress of the human mind." Here's a founding father that understood the power of the document that they had produced for this country, the roadmap for the future. Yet he reminded us, Congress, the American people, "I'm not an advocate of frequent changes in laws and Constitutions, but laws and institutions must advance to keep pace with the progress of the human mind." The question is will we follow this roadmap that our founding fathers produced for us. Will we remember that it should guide this country now and in the future?

Our founding fathers felt that we could overcome any external challenge. I'm a believer today that they never envisioned that we would be challenged in the Lincoln Administration to overcome an internal challenge. I am convinced today the challenge for us is to make sure that we resolve the internal challenges; that when we complete historic times, and we will never completely do that, that we have to remember for this country to go forward it has to be united. It has to be one nation; that in fact it's as much reliant on the American people as it is on the leadership we choose to have in place.

To the students that are here today, I want you to remember when you leave this institution: people won't care to learn how much you know, they will want to know how much you care. I can't think of a more appropriate time or a better way to honor our founders of this country and this institution, than to make sure that their dream is fulfilled for the next generation, and the next generation, and the next generation. Our founding fathers deserve us to be vigilante of their vision of this country. The founders of this institution, Wake Forest University, deserve our commitment to serve and our pledge to financially support the continuation of the dream they have for the next generation. May God bless this institution, and may God bless this place that some call the United States of America, and that we call home. Thank you very much. [applause]

To hear Senator Burr's remarks please go to http://www.wfu.edu/wfunews/