Address by Ralph T. Perry ’51

Unedited transcript, subject to change and correction, of Commencement 2009 remarks by Ralph T. Perry ’51, who received the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters.

Thank you, Lynn [Willsey ’54, citation presenter]. You read it just like I wrote it [laughter].

It is a personal honor to receive this honor from the Trustees for my contributions to the well being of the College. To the graduates today, I salute you on your achievements, and I know that you have been well-prepared to compete successfully in your future occupations.

With the passage of time, you will continue to acquire knowledge in your area of interest, about the world, and about yourself. I have been asked to devote these minutes regarding what I would advise you to seek, to strive for and to become engaged in. I can only do this based on my personal journey of eight decades. As a society, I feel that we measure success based on the accumulation of wealth, honors, and ones occupation, rather than on the basis of success as a human being. It’s very interesting: When you engage in conversation with someone you’ve just met, what’s the first question that’s asked: What do you do?

When we are near the end of our life journey, will the greatest satisfaction be the accumulation of wealth and honors, or will it be the memories of our good deeds?

Here are the lessons I have learned. Take the time to understand yourself. Your public facade is not necessarily who you really are. If you understand yourself, you will be able to realize your full potential as a person, member of society, and in your career.

Treat people with respect and dignity. Do not attempt to achieve your goals through intimidation. Recognize that your success is through the help and assistance of others. You cannot achieve success without the support of others. Loyalty is a two-way street. Give and you will receive. Have high expectations of yourself and those you are associated with. People will work to your level of expectations. Always to remember to thank them for their efforts and good performance.

Understanding and compassion are required to be a success as a person. Once you acquire these traits, you will be on the path to personal happiness. Your success will be partially attributed to the education you have secured at Bates. If you share your monetary good fortune with this college, you will find it provides much satisfaction and joy. I encourage all of you to remember that these four years were due to parents paying tuition and the College’s endowment, which has helped to subsidize your education, and I hope you will have an attitude and a desire to pay back by supporting this institution.

As an example of joy derived from my philanthropy, I would like share from two letters that I recently received. The first came from the recipient of the Perry Scholarship. She’s a freshman, and she said, “Let me begin by saying a huge thank you. The money that I’ve received from the scholarship funds that you donated have launched me into a career at a college I have fallen in love with. I made the dean’s list. I cannot wait to continue my journey here and to see what more the land of the Bobcat has to offer.”

Coincidentally, this came from a young lady whose grandfather I roomed with and played football with, and I had no awareness that she was on the campus. This is a great feeling of gratitude for a small contribution being made.

The second letter was quite a surprise and it came from my daughter-in-law. I received it on the same day I received the letter in regard the fact that I would be standing at this podium today. She says, “Today my father would have been 94. He taught me a lot, in many ways. However, there was one thing that I did not learn from him. Generosity, love, kindness and finances toward others besides his blood children. Your generosity comes in many ways and extends in many directions. I want to thank you for being who you are, and to tell you that your generosity has touched me and made my life better, and made me a better person.”

Although the letter I received telling me about this honorary degree was certainly special and will always be special, this other letter was very important to me. In closing, I am going to quote Abraham Lincoln, who once said, “In the end, it is not the years in your life that count, it is the life in your years.”