During graduation exercises at Presbyterian College May 9, 2009, Dr. Richard Heiser was announced as Professor of the Year. He delivered an address on the subject of excellence, as follows:
Professor of the Year - Dr. Richard Heiser - "A Worthy Pursuit"
May 9, 2009
Nick, you’ve set a high bar! Thanks, I like that.
I want to begin by congratulating you graduates on your big promotion – today you move from being students of the college to being friends of the college. That is an important distinction; one worthy of great celebration. I say to you, good show!
There’s no point in beating around the bush; I have one message: Pursue excellence!!
Now, for some of you, this is a rerun, for some this is a horrible rumor about to be verified, and for the rest, you’ve never heard this phrase in your life.
Let’s first review the issue. There is a phrase that indicates the presence of sorry-ness in our lives, and it goes like this, “That’s good enough.” Sound familiar? Some years ago at another institution, a student came to my office having flunked a test and the first words falling off her quivering lips were, “I studied to the point that I thought I’d get a C.” That statement has given me reason for much reflection, but for the purpose at hand, if she was able to calibrate her studying so that she could gauge how much study was needed to earn a C, why did she settle for a C? She stopped at “good enough.” Always remember, good enough is not good enough – for her, for you, or for me. By definition, “good enough” lacks excellence.
MSo, what is excellence? Let me give you some terms.
Excellence is intentional. Look around you at the garden planet on which we live. Look at Monet’s art, Brunelleschi’s dome, Richard Lionheart’s generalship, Aristotle’s logic, Handel’s “Messiah, “ Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Tiger’s golf score, Nick Roosevelt’s college career, the valedictorian’s GPA, your tidy dorm room that won your mother’s admiration, and any other achievement worthy of note. None of these, no, not one, is the result of chance or luck or the attitude “good enough.” It simply is never going to happen to you like this: “There I was lying on my bed, and lo, with the angels and archangels rejoicing, excellence descended upon me with warmth and light.” No, excellence is the result of focused attention, precise purpose, unflagging energy, and a stout determination always to do your best.
Excellence is potent. The wise man of Proverbs says, “Do you see the one who excels? That one will stand before kings.” In other words, excellence creates credibility that in turn opens doors for the pursuer of excellence to influence, affect, shape, change, lead. Mediocrity affords the sorry person none of the above. Just a little hint, framing your degree will not result in you standing before kings; that privilege and honor comes to those who have the quality of excellence.
Excellence is magnanimous. As I prepared this address, I was bothered by the idea that the call to excellence could be received merely as a means of self-advancement. You see there are, down through history to the present day, the world over, individuals who have achieved greatly, who exercise power and influence, but they are most definitely not excellent. Let me explain what I mean by asking you a question – who benefits from your pursuit of excellence? Well, in light of the previous point, you would not be wrong to say that will be rewarded for being a person possessed of this quality. But who else are beneficiaries of your excellence? Excellence in the workplace benefits your employer; excellence in graduate school benefits your professors and future patients, clients, parishioners, and students; excellence in relationships benefits your spouse, children, neighbors, and even strangers; excellence in business benefits your customers and suppliers, and so on and so forth. Excellence is more than a level of achievement; it is an ethic. The Lord Christ said it this way, “Do to others [the good] you would want them to do to you.” Yeah, the Golden Rule is nothing other than the call to excellence because excellence has the other person’s good in mind; the pursuit of excellence is an act of love.
Just two more attributes of excellence and I’m out of here. Number one, excellence is hard. I stand before you today as an underachiever. Did you know that I have begun taking piano lessons? Well, just the other day while I was practicing, my ears were scandalized to hear my mouth say out loud, “That’s good enough.” Listen, there will be times when every fiber within your being pleads, “Can’t we be good enough, just this once?” Excellence is admired but not always encouraged or rewarded; indeed our culture may sadly be on the verge of punishing it. Excellence is not for the weak-hearted.
Number two, excellence is earthbound. The preacher of Ecclesiastes pondered the meaning of life strictly from the perspective of “under the sun,” and discovered that there was no meaning to life if inquiry was restricted to the terrestrial. Excellence, when pursued “under the sun,” can pay tremendous dividends to you and to others, but bear in mind that it will do you no good “beyond the sun.” Neither you nor I can be that excellent; you need another answer for that question.
So, friends, pursue excellence – in your vocation, education, and recreation; in your thoughts, words, and deeds; in your relationships with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow citizens, and strangers; with the up and coming and with the down and out; in the good times and in the midst of adversity. Pursue excellence!!
May God’s richest blessing rest on each one of you.
I am pleased to welcome you to my personal blog, which I started in March 2009. I first became interested in blogging about five years ago, using old "blogger.com", which was cumbersome to use and I never mastered. About a year ago I discovered that Google had bought "blogger.com" and had revised it considerably, making it fun to use, so much so that I have devised at least 15 blogs on various subjects and frequently add posts and Gadgets to them.