‘Be Hampden-Sydney men’, help your world, graduates challenged

Published 1:16 am Monday, May 13, 2024

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How you see the world determines how you show up in the world, David Brooks said. Speaking at Hampden-Sydney College’s commencement Saturday, the former New York Times and Wall Street Journal reporter told graduates what happens next is up to them. 

“If you see with the eyes of judgment, you’ll find flaws in people,” Brooks said. “If you see with the eyes of distrust you find threat. But if you see with compassionate eyes, you’ll see imperfect people doing the best they can.” 

Unfortunately, he added, most of the time we’re focused on the wrong thing when looking at the world.  

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“A lot of the time, we see the world with self-centered and self-serving eyes, the world is a play centered around me,” Brooks said. 

And that’s where the challenge comes in. In order to be better men, men of competence and character, Brooks told the graduates, then each of us has to challenge ourselves. Each day, we have to try and look beyond ourselves to help the community as a whole. 

“Life is a moral struggle, where the main question each day is did I do ill or did I do good?” Brooks said. “Joy is the fruit from that well-lived life. Joy comes when we forget ourselves and become part of the whole, joy comes from offering our gifts to others.” 

That was the main focus of Saturday’s commencement, as Hampden-Sydney graduates were encouraged to find a community, be it in Farmville, Prince Edward, Cumberland or somewhere else entirely. And then, work to make it better

Those comments were echoed by Hampden-Sydney valedictorian Daniel Nivens, who recalled the writings of 19th century French historian Alexis de Tocqueville. In 1831, de Tocqueville set out on a tour of America and made notes of all he noticed. 

“The most important element as he saw it was our tendency to form non-political associations for everything,” Nivens said. “Rotary clubs, the Masons, churches, drinking clubs, you name it. If an American needed to do something, we got together with our neighbors to do it. (de Tocqueville) said without these associations, civilization itself would be in peril.” 

Again, it goes back to building community, to making contributions. 

The world awaits, the 166 graduates were told. And it is a much different one than when each graduate entered the college, during the COVID-19 pandemic. All total, 166 students received their Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree on Saturday, with an extra 22 set to finish requirements this coming summer. And each one is needed by the world. 

“Go out and be Hampden-Sydney men,” Nivens challenged his classmates. Go out and contribute to your communities. 

Hampden-Sydney Tiger earns Gammon Cup 

Also during graduation, Hampden-Sydney officials named this year’s winner of the Gammon Cup. It’s given in memory of Dr. Edgar G. Gammon, a Hampden-Sydney graduate of the Class of 1905, pastor of College Church from 1917 to 1923, and President of the College from 1939 to 1955. The award is handed out to the member of the graduating class who has best served the College through character, scholarship, and athletic ability. 

And this year’s Gammon Cup went to someone very familiar to the Prince Edward community. 

It wasn’t just that Josiah Hardy was part of this year’s Hampden-Sydney basketball team, making a run to the national championship game. It wasn’t just that he scored almost 500 points, pulled down 300 rebounds and shot 51% from the field in four years. In addition, Stimpert pointed out, he’s served the campus community as everything from a resident advisor to a member of multiple service groups and clubs. 

Ultimately his high character, selfless leadership service, mentorship, academic and athletic accomplishments and abilities have elevated him as role model for our students and communities,” said Hampden-Sydney College President Larry Stimpert.