“Dr. King said ‘Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve,”’ said President Fuchs at the opening ceremony for UF’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration. “It is a reminder to me to ask myself, how can I serve and how can I be great?”
I’m pleased to be here with my wife, Linda, and to offer all of you our very warmest welcome to this ceremony that begins UF’s Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration this month.
As we are gathered as a university community, I think it’s worth remembering that universities and in particular, university students, were vital to Dr. King and to the Civil Rights movement that he led.
It was four students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro who, in 1960, sat down at a segregated lunch counter at Woolworth’s, touching off the sit-ins that were so crucial to the movement.
College students were prominent among the Freedom Riders who rode buses in the South to challenge segregated busing, which had been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, but which continued due to lack of enforcement. Their bravery was often met with violence, including the firebombing of a bus and beatings in Alabama. But in the end, those students and their compatriots were victorious.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was pivotal to Dr. King, helping to organize the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington and to advocate for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Near the end of his life in 1968, Dr. King said that black and white youths, quote, “formed an alliance that aroused the conscience of the nation.”
Much has changed in the ensuing half century. However I believe that students … and indeed all of us in the UF community … can best honor Dr. King not just by celebrating him and the brave students of his era, but by embracing and adopting their values and ideals for our own times.
Dr. King espoused courage, non-violence, justice, community, love, sacrifice, human dignity, education, forgiveness and faith. At this moment I especially love his expression of patriotism: “We must work to uplift this nation that we love to a higher destiny, to a higher plateau, to a more noble expression of humanness.”
In 2019, I hope that I can join all of you in making our campus, our own small part of this nation, “a more noble expression of humanness.”
Dr. King was especially moved by the concept of service to others. He said “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.” It is a reminder to me to ask myself, how can I serve and how can I be great?
He was an optimist, not in the superficial or Pollyannaish sense, but in his resolute belief that it is possible for us to achieve his dream. This month and this year, I hope that each of us can find
ways to tip the scales toward justifying his optimism, and to serve this greater cause.
Thank you, and again, Linda and I are so pleased to begin our Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration with all of you.