On Mothers, Philanthropy, and Education
Commencement Reception Address for
The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
May 10, 2014
By Tyrone McKinley Freeman
I used to find it quite odd and baffling as to why the university would hold commencement on Mother's Day. Why in the world would you disrupt the brunches, flowers, gift-giving and other rituals of Mother's Day with another major life event such as Commencement? But as we prepare for tomorrow, I'm no longer baffled, particularly within the context of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (LFSOP), because mothers, philanthropy, and education go hand in hand.
The very first gift we are given is the gift of life. It starts with the Creator and is made manifest through our mothers.
The second gift we are given is one of endowments--those talents, passions, and inclinations deposited into us by the Creator and that frequently emerge and develop over time because of our mothers.
The third gift we are given is the gift of education or learning, which starts the moment we as newborns are laid on our mother's chest and she speaks to us for the first time.
Lessons of love emanate from her touch, kisses, tears, and embrace. Our mothers are the first to sing to us and to read to us. They help us navigate the show and tells, book reports, and dioramas of grammar school. Mothers set us on the path that leads us to and through the institutions we come to know as alma mater--the fostering or nurturing mother.
Alma mater teaches us to use our first gift of life for something higher, something good; to harness our second gift of endowments and ground it in the richness and complexity of the human past, aware of the endless possibilities for good and wary of the equally endless possibilities for ill; and to take our third gift of education and serve others.
The LFSOP as alma mater is unique. She allows us to develop and live out what the writer David Brooks calls the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. He says the resume virtues are the skills we bring to the marketplace and what we put on our resumes. The eulogy virtues are deeper, more meaningful, and get mentioned in our eulogies. Because society favors the resume virtues, we neglect the eulogy virtues at great expense. But from our first day as students in the LFSOP, whether we are undergraduate or graduate students, we are challenged to think about our eulogy virtues and how to live them. Whether through writing philanthropic autobiographies, discussing the moral imagination, investigating motivations for giving, or interrogating notions of the public good, the LFSOP has asked us how we will make the world better through rightly directed action. But not only has she asked us this question, she has equipped us to be out in the world pursuing answers, just as our mothers equipped and sent us out for our very first day of school years ago.
And so in recognition of mothers, philanthropy, and education, we, as commencing graduates, gather together this evening to say THANK YOU.
Thank you to God the Creator for the opportunity to earn a degree, the strength to persist, and the money to pay for it.
Thank you to our mothers, who've given us countless gifts and taught us the very meaning of love for mankind. I am privileged to have virtually all of the mothers in my life present here today. My mother, Carolyn Freeman, is here from New Jersey. My mother-in-law, Selma Dry, is here from Delaware. My Godmother, Sandy Jordan Gordon, is here from Pennsylvania. And my wife, and the mother of my children, Michelle Freeman, is here. And so are my many aunts who treated me more like a son than a nephew. Thank you, mothers, I love you!
Thank you to our families--our spouses, children, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and friends--for their love and support.
For those of us who are parents, we especially thank our children. For me, that means Alexander and Olivia--my heart. Our studies frequently required energy and attention normally reserved exclusively for you. You may never know how much we truly agonized over those choices, but we hope you will know the truth of the example, so that you too will dream, work hard, and one day wear the same funny-looking robes and hats you'll see us in tomorrow.
Thank you to our faculty for your commitment to our field and to each one of us. You've challenged and inspired us through your own achievements. You've brought us up in the habits of practice and prepared us to take the field as we have received it from you and add to it.
Thank you to the Board of Visitors and staff of the LFSOP for their daily efforts to improve philanthropy and improve the world.
We thank the donors of the LFSOP, whose generosity makes this all possible. Personally, I thank the Lumina Foundation for Education, whose Fellowship in Philanthropic Studies helped me get through my coursework. And we certainly thank the tax payers of the State of Indiana, who make IUPUI and Indiana University possible.
And, lastly, to our fathers, we've not forgotten you amidst our talk of mothers. In fact, you've inspired these very sentiments expressed here today because you've taught us that when we honor our mothers we honor you.
And so to our mothers, wherever you are, on tomorrow, we hope that our degrees will be the best set of Mother's Day flowers you've ever received. Thank you.