Dr. Richard T. Ewing, Jr., March 3 2019 Remarks
March 5, 2019
Thank you choir, thank you poetry readers, and welcome to all of you gathered on this beautiful day. Hopefully over the long weekend, all of you enjoyed some respite from your labors. At ACS, where everyone works so hard, we need such holidays from time-to-time for recreation and to restore ourselves, to re-energize, and at this time of year to prepare for the busy spring that lies ahead. Even as we enjoy such a welcome break, it is important to remember why we have this holiday.
As we gather here to celebrate a great milestone in Bulgaria’s past, I have thoughts to share with you about the future. And whether you come to such awareness early in life or later as I did, it changes you. My thoughts are these:
- The past isn’t dead; it is not even past.
- And yet when it comes to the future, nothing is written.
- Every morning, every day comes with infinite promise.
- It is up to each one of us in this world, here and now, to make the most of the time we have been given.
- The great modern American statesman, former Secretary of State John Kerry, said it best: “Every day is extra.”
School people around the world have an interesting challenge. It is both our great opportunity and our sacred responsibility.
- To pass on what we can of the power and the glory of human language, knowledge, and skill;
- To preserve and enhance civilization by cultivating wisdom – that is, what we know to be true and right and lasting; and
- To help each succeeding generation see and experience what is good and great in the human spirit.
Out of all that has happened in human history – days of awakening; days of becoming; days when chains are broken and the shackles imposed by despots or the tyranny of ignorance and fear are released; days of glory when people who have lived without freedom can finally breathe the sweet air of liberty– these are days to be remembered and treasured.
It is especially on days such as Liberation Day that we as educators feel the responsibility of ensuring that knowledge of the past stays alive. Every people, every country, every civilization has such days: days of acknowledgment and remembrance, days when wreaths and flowers are placed on headstones and memorials, as they were this past weekend in Sofia and around the country. As Bulgarians you have likely heard about Liberation Day since you were very young: stories of courage and heroic deeds; stories of sacrifice, suffering, and profound loss; and ultimately stories of redemption and the enduring power of the human spirit.
Those of you who know ACS history, know that our very first students attended class in the fall of 1860 when this country was still part of the Ottoman Empire. Thanks to the revolutionary struggle of heroic men and women, Bulgaria gained its independence. And those who know your 20th century history know that independence had to be regained more than once. In times of peace it is easy to take hard-earned rights for granted, but as has often been said, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. And surely everyone here knows how vigilant we must be in today’s world.
On this day of remembrance I believe it is important to acknowledge ACS’s own legacy of courage and sacrifice, for we are gathered here on hallowed ground. This is a school that inspired and graduated strong, determined, highly educated people and good leaders before it was closed, first by the violence of World War II and then by the oppression of communism. And it was not only the life of the College that was cut short. Let us not forget there was a time when Bulgarians lost their lives for the crime of having been students at the American College of Sofia and for believing in the ideas and ideals that the College stood for then, and stands for once again today.
As you know, we have posted inspirational quotations throughout the America for Bulgaria Campus Center, and as I am sure you know, one is from a man who committed his life to seeking liberty and freedom for his people, Vasil Levski. As you probably also know, Levski was a man committed to the cause of human dignity and freedom for all people, everywhere.
“Every nation, and every person,” he said “must be given the right to live with dignity and freedom. “
It is right and good that we take time to praise and honor those who, like Vasil Levski, dedicated their lives to the pursuit of freedom and dignity. We owe it to them not to forget. But I am here to tell you this: It is not enough to pay tribute to the great heroes and heroines of the past, to honor their courage and their sacrifice. We owe them this, yes. But we owe them more than that. And we owe more to ourselves.
A decade before any of you students were born, about the time that ACS re-opened in the early 1990s, a book written by a prominent intellectual gained worldwide attention. It was called The End of History. This book was not about the coming apocalypse, quite the contrary. In the exuberance following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism, people were eager to believe that the symbiosis of liberal democratic states and market economies had triumphed in the epic struggle of ideas, and that this struggle was now over. We had reached the successful end of history, at least in the Hegelian sense.
As it turns out, the announcement of history’s death was exaggerated. If we have learned anything in the first two decades of the twenty-first century, it is that there is nothing certain about the triumph of liberal democratic ideals based on freedom and human dignity. The sad truth remains that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for men and women of goodwill to do nothing and to remain silent.
There are two more quotations on our Campus Center walls that I want to share with you today – the first from John Kennedy and the next from Kristiyan Takov:
“Life is never easy. There is work to be done and obligations to be met – obligations to truth, to justice, and to liberty.”
“Truth cannot divert us in the wrong direction. Silence surely will.”
When the time comes – as it surely will in your lives, whether in small ways or grand ones – when the time comes for you to stand up for human dignity and freedom, what will you do? Will you stand? Or will you be silent?
The good and the bad news is that history is not over. We live in dangerous as well as opportune times on this beautiful planet that glows like a beacon in the cosmos. We are all here together on this good earth, and for better or worse, its future is in our hands, as is the future of our species.
When you come back as alumni to this hallowed ground in ten, twenty, and thirty years, will you come back here knowing you have sought to shape your own destiny, the destiny of our fellow humans, our world, and our precious environment in ways that others would honor and acknowledge? Or will you have been silent and simply let fate take its own course?
I hope that you did enjoy, as I did, the holiday weekend that was well earned here at ACS. And I am grateful that we have also taken this time to honor the sacrifices of those that earned for us the rights and privileges that we enjoy today. We stand here now, on this day, because people of courage and foresight, guts and grit, saw that this school, like this country, could rise like a phoenix.
We honor this day as Bulgaria’s national holiday and also as a day to celebrate freedom and liberty. We believe it is our right as human beings to live and breathe freely. And now more than ever, it is also our responsibility, the responsibility of every generation, and for all of you young people here in your turn, to stand up for those sacred rights, to live them, to preserve them, and to protect them. For better or worse, history has not ended, and the future is not yet written. It depends on us; it depends on you.
So, I wish you, chestit treti mart. May we breathe forever the sweet air of liberty and freedom. Thank you.