Prepared Remarks for Lincoln Pilgrimage Event, April 2019
Chancellor Susan J. Koch
I am delighted to be with you today on this 2019 Lincoln Pilgrimage weekend! Congratulations to all who have participated in the Abraham Lincoln Council’s 74th Pilgrimage – walking the same route Lincoln took from New Salem to study law in Springfield. That’s a long, long walk and I admire your courage and determination.
I am especially pleased to be joining you this year, in 2019, the year Scouts BSA has opened its membership to young girls!
Though scouting was not available for me or for my own three daughters, I have six granddaughters and I am anticipating that someday in the future, I may be attending a granddaughter’s Eagle Scout ceremony. That would be cool!
As Chancellor of the University of Illinois Springfield, right here in Lincoln’s home town, I am surrounded by Abraham Lincoln’s influence, ideas and impact – it’s what I love most about this place. University of Illinois students on my campus are inspired by Lincoln’s presence every day when they walk past “The Young Lawyer”, a spectacular sculpture of Lincoln by world-renowned artist George Lundeen. [I’m told touching Abe’s outstretched hand or putting a flower in his lapel brings good luck. I put a yellow rose in his lapel yesterday to help our baseball team win their game today …… they’re playing right now and we’ll see how that works out!]
UIS Lincoln scholar Professor Michael Burlingame is said to know more about Lincoln than any other living person and he shares those lessons on character and leadership every day with his students and with all who appreciate his many books.
The launch of the new Center for Lincoln Studies at UIS next year will further expand Lincoln’s impact – because a greater knowledge of Lincoln, his wisdom, his leadership and his legacy will enhance students’ and others’ understanding of themselves and enable them to be better leaders in their professions and their communities, here and around the world. I think we can all agree today’s world needs more leaders like Lincoln.
For this year’s Lincoln Pilgrimage, I’m told the theme is one of the twelve elements of the Scout Law: “A Scout is Trustworthy.” The Scouts did not exist, of course, when Lincoln was young in the early 1800s – growing up a poor farm boy in Kentucky; but I’ve been thinking about what Lincoln had to say about trustworthiness – things like character, honesty, kindness, courage and dependability.
What would he say today if he could join us? What would Lincoln say?
Well fortunately for all of us, Lincoln wrote thousands of letters (some of which are still being discovered today) and, of course, he gave many, many speeches throughout his career.
Here are a few words from President Lincoln about the theme of “trustworthiness.” About trust, Lincoln said:
“If you forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true you that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
About character, Lincoln said:
“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
Character is the real thing.
About kindness, Lincoln said:
“Kindness is the only service that will stand the storm of life and not wash out. It will wear well and will be remembered long after the prism of politeness or the complexion of courtesy has faded away.”
About determination Lincoln said:
“I do the very best I know how, the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.”
…. and he also said about determination:
“You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.”
About courage, Lincoln said:
“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.”
And one of my favorite Lincoln quotes:
“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” (That means even when things get hard, don’t give up!)
I can attest that, from my own experience through many years as a teacher and leader in higher education, Lincoln’s words ring true. Learning how he led, how he faced the overwhelming challenges of his childhood including the death of his mother at a young age, his poverty, his lack of schooling, and the challenges of his presidency during the Civil War; and how he worked together with those who agreed with him and those who did not has provided both inspiration and aspiration for me and so many others. It can do that for you, too.
But something else you should know about Lincoln is that he was not always serious. In fact, from his days as a storekeeper in New Salem, as a young lawyer in Illinois and later as a politician, he was known for his good humor and was quite famous as a jokester and storyteller.
There is a story, a true story, that illustrates Lincoln’s sense of humor:
All through the Civil War, Lincoln made many trips to the battlefronts to consult with his generals and to offer encouragement to the troops. Early in 1865, when it seemed like the Confederacy would fall soon, he stayed on a boat on the James River near General Grant’s headquarters.
The captain of the boat wanted President Lincoln, who was six feet four inches tall, to sleep in his bed; but President Lincoln insisted on using a smaller space where the berth was four inches shorter than he was.
The next day while Lincoln was off the boat consulting with General Grant, the captain had carpenters quickly lengthen and widen the bed without Lincoln’s knowledge.
The following morning, Lincoln greeted the captain with a straight face and said: “A miracle happened last night! I shrank six inches in height!”
I’ll close today by returning to the Scout Law:
“A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”
Though Abraham Lincoln was not a Scout, I am confident he lived each day in the spirit of the Scout Law. I hope your experience this weekend has inspired you live that same life.
And for those here today who imagine college in their future, I hope you’ll come visit us at UIS to explore the opportunities available at the University of Illinois at Springfield. You can take a selfie while you’re there with Mr. Lincoln, shake his hand – and maybe receive some good luck in return.
Thank you so much for your attention and have a great day!