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Service by the Educated Negro

Address of Roscoe Conkling Bruce of Tuskegee Institute at the Commencement Exercises of the M Street High School Metropolitan A. M. E. Church Washington, D.C., June 16, 1903

Roscoe Conkling Bruce

313 pages
Library of Alexandria
When George William Curtis had received from Harvard her greatest degree, he arose at the Alumni Dinner and said, “In the old Italian story the nobleman turns out of the hot street crowded with eager faces into the coolness and silence of his palace. As he looks at the pictures of the long line of ancestors he hears a voice,—or is it his own heart beating?—which says to him noblesse oblige. The youngest scion of the oldest house is pledged by all the virtues and honor of his ancestry to a life not unworthy his lineage.... When I came here I was not a nobleman, but to-day I have been ennobled. The youngest doctor of the oldest school, I too, say with the Italian, noblesse oblige. I am pledged by all the honorable traditions of the noble family into which I am this day adopted.”... You, my friends, are ennobled by the diploma of a school, rich in traditions of high endeavor and actual service. Shall those traditions fail to enter your hearts, and to quicken your energies, and to chasten your ambitions? This question you are not now competent to answer, and you will not be competent until you have lived your lives. Your equipment for the business of life is not contemptible. As workers you have some acquaintance with the natural resources of our country, and the ways in which they have been utilized in the production and distribution of commodities through the perfecting of industrial organization and the applying of science to work. More, importantly, you possess in varying degrees a group of valuable industrial qualities,—that ambition without which work is drudgery and enlargement of life unsought and unattainable; that habit of earnest endeavor which, established by continuous attention to Greek or Latin, mathematics or history, may be utilized in the school room, or on the farm, or in the court room; that habit of self-control which enables men to sacrifice vagrant impulse to sober duty; that resourcefulness which discovers better methods of getting work done; that directing intelligence by which one man can effectively organize for a given purpose, many materials and many workers. In addition to the knowledge and the qualities I have mentioned, most of you have a settled disposition toward some form of self-support appropriate to an exceptional training; while you know that some men must black other men’s boots, you also know that a boot-black with a high school diploma at home means waste—waste of time, waste of money, waste of education. Moreover, you appreciate the duties and value the privileges of citizenship in a democracy, and most of you have on the whole a serious intent to do what you reasonably can to promote the general welfare. Such is your equipment as citizens. Finally, as human beings, you are able to participate in the intellectual, æsthetic, and moral interests of cultivated people. How may you with such equipment be really useful under the conditions of American life? That is our problem.