The First Battle/Life of William Jennings Bryan/Illinois College Valedictory, by William J. Bryan (1881)
Illinois College, June, 1881
Beloved instructors, it is character not less than intellect that you have striven to develop. As we stand at the end of our college course, and turn our eyes toward the scenes forever past—as our memories linger on the words of wisdom which have fallen from your lips, we are more and more deeply impressed with the true conception of duty which you have ever shown. You have sought not to trim the lamp of genius until the light of morality is paled by its dazzling brilliance, but to encourage and strengthen both. These days are over. No longer shall we listen to your warning voices, no more meet you in these familiar class-rooms, yet on our hearts "deeply has sunk the lesson" you have given, and shall not soon depart.
We thank you for your kind and watchful care, and shall ever cherish your teachings with that devotion which sincere gratitude inspires.
It is fitting that we express to you also, honored trustees, our gratitude for the privileges which you have permitted us to enjoy.
The name of the institution whose interests you guard, will ever be dear to us as the school-room, to whose influence we shall trace whatever success coming years may bring.
Dear class-mates, my lips refuse to bid you a last good-bye; we have so long been joined together in a community of aims and interests; so often met and mingled our thoughts in confidential friendship; so often planned and worked together, that it seems like rending asunder the very tissues of the heart to separate us now.
But this long and happy association is at an end, and now as we go forth in sorrow, as each one must, to begin alone the work which lies before us, let us encourage each other with strengthening words.
Success is brought by continued labor and continued watchfulness. We must struggle on, not for one moment hesitate, nor take one backward step; for in language of the poet—
The gates of hell are open night and day, Smooth the descent and easy is the way; But to return and view the cheerful skies, In this, the past and mighty labor lies.
We launch our vessels upon the uncertain sea of life alone, yet, not alone, for around us are friends who anxiously and prayerfully watch our course. They will rejoice if we arrive safely at our respective havens, or weep with bitter tears, if, one by one, our weather-beaten barks are lost forever in the surges of the deep.
We have esteemed each other, loved each other, and now must with each other part. God grant that we may all so live as to meet in the better world, where parting is unknown.
Halls of learning, fond Alma Mater, farewell. We turn to take one "last, long, lingering look" at thy receding walls. We leave thee now to be ushered out into the varied duties of an active life.
However high our names may be inscribed upon the gilded scroll of fame, to thee we all the honor give, to thee all praises bring. And when, in after years, we're wearied by the bustle of a busy world, our hearts will often long to turn and seek repose beneath thy sheltering shade.