Early Speeches (1890-1918)

An Oration at his Graduation from Amherst College

June 1895

By J. Calvin Coolidge

The mantle of truth falls upon the Grove Orator on condition he wear it wrong side out. For the Grove Oration is intended to give a glimpse of the only true side of college life on the inside. And how can this be displayed but by turning things wrong side out? That is the grove prerogative. We came out of doors to have plenty of room. Reconstructed Amherst has not yet decreed that “fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly.” Yet let no one expect that this is an occasion for feeding the multitude on small fishes. I only bring the impressions that we gather by the way, whether they be pleasant as the breath of society roses from over the meadows of Old Hadley, or disagreeable as the ancient odors that filled Athenae Hall.

Now college life has three relations: the relation to the class, the relation to the faculty, and the relation to other things.

 The class relation begins with a cane rush where the undergraduates use Anglo-Saxon, and ends with a diploma where the faculty use Latin, if it does not end before by a communication from the President in just plain English. When we had our first rush, the streets of Amherst were lit with matches. We lost the rush, but we found our class spirit. Those were the days when we looked with envy at even Professor Charlie, and cooled our fevered brows at the college well. Let memory draw us back once more to the college well! Deep as the wily schemes of “Sleuth” Jaggar, the crafty man, cool as the impudence of “Jeff” Davis, refreshing as the sparkling wit of “Chipmunk” Hardy; The freshman’s first love! Many a man goes home when he finds the college well is not dug in Northampton.

But sophomore year came at last. Probably nearly every one would maintain that the only proper thing to do when one comes to a description of sophomore year is to let the voice fall, count four, and begin some other subject. In fact, I have always been inclined to believe that some impecunious sophomore, who may have enticed him into buying a book on ornithology or some kindred subject, first led Horace Greeley to classify college men as horned cattle. “But the great editor was a poor naturalist, for even horned cattle would never try to steal a railroad restaurant. Still we have to excuse the sophomore worm, for he comes out of his vacation cocoon a junior butterfly. Probably it is better to be a junior than not to be. He is the incarnation of all the attributes of a college man. The plug hat is his. He goes about “seeking the bubble reputation even in his own mouth.” Only last Decoration Day, Lockwood delivered two addresses before people. The only trouble with junior year is that it leaves one a senior. He needs no description. You have all been looking at him for the last week. Here are some living pictures representing the senior in repose.

I have said that there are other things. One of these is the town. It is largely made up of beautiful scenery and a kindly regard for a college man’s money. But not so with all the townspeople. James Davis deserves a word of commendation, but I cannot give it to him, because he sent me word that whenever he was mentioned in this connection his wife made home life a misery to him.

It seemed also at the opening of the year as if it would be necessary to mention THE STUDENT, but ever since Editor Law came back from Christmas vacation, wearing an engagement smile, and humming some ditty about “over the river,” the organ has taken a more readable standard. But I cannot leave out the other classes. The freshmen still have more links than golf suits in spite of the fact that Henry Clews may be afflicted with only the eccentricities of genius. The less one says about the sophomores, of course the better one describes them. The juniors have some musicians and little Johnnie Pratt for a football captain.

Gentlemen of the class of 95:

Oh! You need not look so alarmed. I am not going to work off any song and dance about the cold, cruel world. It may not be such a misfortune to be out of college. It is not positive proof that a diploma is a wolf because it comes to you in sheep’s clothing. No one in business will have to pay Professor Tyler, him of the nest-egg pate, two dollars for an extra examination. Of course we are not all stars. Post, like the man in the moon, seems to have come too soon to find his way to knowledge. Compton has sometimes been unfortunate when he could not read between the lines. And there is Charlie Little in his own specialty of drawing himself into his shell like a turtle to exist solely to and for self. In looking over the class book, I see that the statistics committee made the mistake of not taking the opinion of the class to see, whether, from present indications, Fiske’s failure to make the commencement stage was due more to subjective causes than to objective obstacles. But we have also such men as Colby, who at Chicago, sacrificed the brightest athletic prospects of any man in the class for the sake of Amherst, and every man in college knows what reward he had for his loyalty. Wherever we go, whatever we are, scientific or classical, conditioned or unconditioned, degreed or disagreed, we are going to be Amherst men. And whoever sees a purple and white button marked with ’95 shall see the emblem of a class spirit that will say, “Old Amherst, doubtless always right, but right or wrong, Old Amherst.”

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