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Acceptance of Honorary Degree, delivered before Temple University at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (February 16, 1931)


President Beury and Friends,

I am proud of the honor which Temple University has just conferred upon me, I may even be forgiven a touch of vanity on this occasion, since I am the only one of my particular sub-species, the deaf blind, that has ever been given a degree by any university in any age of the world, so far as I know, (sic) It is natural, is it not, that one who must limp through life should rejoice that the race isn't only to the swift.

When we have been out of college for a long time, some of us wonder why we thought going to college so important. It is not easy to give a reason. The advantages of a college education are not always immediately discernible; but undoubtedly they leave an imprint of character upon the mind of the student. It is not possible to live four years exposed to the spirit of noble human achievement and not absorb some of the highest values.

A little parable illustrates my meaning. Some lilies were growing in a lovely glen which was a holy place. A tribe of barbarians passed by and trod on the lilies. The fragrance of the crushed blossoms haunted them, it followed them everywhere, it was on their feet, and they could not lose it anywhere they went. After a time, they ceased to be barbarians.

Science and invention have wrought mightily, but humaneness is the only guide to what we shall learn and what we shall discard in these days of investigation and upsetting theories. When there is so much darkness and selfishness in the institutions of earth, only the single eye of a wise heart can see that progress is not a delusion -- that noble thoughts do not always fall into barren soil -- that our blind, greedy instincts can be transformed into sympathy and enthusiasm for the welfare of all men.

In a very real sense I feel that you have shown me this distinguished token of your regard because you think what I have done may encourage others who have unusual difficulties to overcome. But I also feel that every bit of the usefulness you attribute to me has been unfolded by my teacher Anne Sullivan. She has been the house of my defense, and in her wisdom my groping hands have found their strength.

Together we went through Radcliffe College. Day after day during four years she sat beside me in the lecture halls and spelled into my hand word by word what the professors said; and nearly all the books she read to me in the same way.

Yet when I received my degree from Radcliffe, not a word of recognition was given her! The pain caused me by that indifference or thoughtlessness is still a thorn in my memory. So nothing in our experience has made me happier than your splendid tribute to her and your earnest desire to honor her also with a degree. That she should refuse to stand with me this day is a grief to me, but her refusal is consistent with her attitude throughout the years we have been together. She has closed every door to any recognition that would emphasize her individuality. I can only bow my head and repeat my thanks to you for your beautiful thought of us both.

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