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Commencement address. (30 June 1916.)


I shall not attempt to tell you how to get rich. It isn't worthwhile for if I could, but a few would succeed. I hope that none of you have graduated thinking that you will escape labor by hand; when that day comes, our democracy is gone. I have little sympathy for the person who tell of his disadvantages. I do not think there is anybody in this city who could not have an education if he wanted it. Is a person too old to learn? When you are too old to learn, you might as well wend your way to the cemetary and make room for education and new movements.

Commercial training is one of the things that has come to stay and through this one can command the best pursuits.

Every person should have a purpose in life, something to do. Only a few of our men and women have a set purpose or an end in life. Is it always wise for the boy or girl to graduate from a university? No, scores and scores of boys and girls have wasted four years of their lives and met with defeat. The business men prefer the college graduate when he is young before his character and habits are thoroughly set and move him in their great enterprises. I know hundreds of university graduates who can't earn a living and are dependent upon father and mother for food and care.

I do not think the parent has any right to interfere with the boy's and girl's life. It is a sacred matter. Because the father is a merchant it is no reason why the son should be one, likewise with preachers, doctors and all other business men. When young people know what they want to be, let them bring out the best that's in them. I believe that God has a life work for every one of us. We should employ all effort to make the most of our possibilities.

Remember, to be a teacher is no higher than to be a first class stenographer. Years ago we heard the father say that he could not let his daughter be a stenographer because it furnished temptations for her to be associated with men. I wonder what her father and brother is. For men and women to associate makes them better morally; remember it is no the stenography that sometimes fails, it is the girl.

I am a radical advocate for the larger freedom of the women. I would not see her shut out from a single occupation.

I hate to hear a man call his wife his old lady, or a woman call her husband old man and for parents to call the children kids.

I believe that behavior has double purpose with young people- they should have help at home. Young man, call for the young lady at her home when you take her anywhere and always be a gentleman. I feel sorry for the young lady who has to visit the courtyard, post-office or cemetery to get a fellow.

Read good literature, for example the works of Mark Twain and Oliver Wendell Holmes.


Love is a much abused subject in the present days. I recall the story of the early days of Owen Kildare, magazine writer, who belonged to the lowest type of bowery tough, seemed to have lost all his finer instincts. His protection of a school teacher insulted by a fellow rowdy, lead to his subsequent love for her and for that which she represented. Leaving all his evil influences behind he learned to write his name and read at the age of twenty-nine years. Love is a power among powers in the world of instincts, and you teachers have the opportunity of developing through kindness the instinct of real love which will lead children from developing undesirable instincts.

My view on capital punishment, one of the subjects which I have been called upon to discuss during my two terms as Democrat governor in a wickedly Republican state, is my own opinion of the subject. I believe in treating all men who show the symptoms of being a reptile, exactly as I would treat a reptile, and reptiles should be shut up where they will not harm innocent people and let God Almighty deal with them.

I have also been called upon to give my views on the movies. I have always asked the objectors, why do we have movies? The psychologist says our movie minds must be fed and therefore we have movies.

Whose fault is it that we have objectionable pictures? Isn't it because we who go to see them do not have our proper instincts trained? It means an awful waste of human emotion when the objectionable pictures are patronized. I believe that the exploitation of our activities in the movies can be developed to do some good in the educational field and the movie will eventually become a power instead of a menace.

Just a word about the industrial problems facing us. As long as we develop the coarser instincts which guide us through commercial and industrial endeavor, and neglect the finer instincts of beauty and joy, such as the appreciation of things beautiful in music and other things, we will have our labor troubles and other difficulties.

It is up to you teachers to take your boys and girls and so develop their finer instincts so that they will grow up to be better mean and women. Be sure you first know what makes the wheels go round.

Source: Newton, Roy, editor. Life and Works of Woodbridge N. Ferris.(Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1960), 226-228.