It isn’t very often in life that you meet someone who does good and who is good. But today, you will get a chance to meet such a man and it will be in his name that we will make scholarship awards to a few of you.
He is a leader who does not glory in his leadership. He is a healer who works for the good of his patients and for the common good as the head of a great university. And he is a friend who has not forgotten his old friends.
The man is Dr. Jay Perman and all of us up here and in the first two rows are proud to say that we were his classmates.
Here at Mather.
Forty-seven years ago.
Not exactly yesterday.
All of us represent the Zeolite Scholarship Fund and graduated from Mather in June of 1964 or January of 1965.
Like you, most of us didn’t have very much money.
Like you, most of us had parents or grandparents who came here from another country.
And like you, most of us were more than a little unsure of what was possible for us in the future.
Jay’s parents came to Chicago from 5000 miles away in Eastern Europe and struggled to make ends meet. When Jay was in his first year in high school his father died. Thereafter, Jay’s mom supported the family by working as a seamstress, paid by the number of hats she completed in a day.
Jay is probably the only Mather graduate in history to become the President of a major university, in Jay’s case, the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
That school is about 700 miles east of Mather. But the interesting thing is, that in order to go from being a student at Mather to becoming the President of the University of Maryland, you have to travel an even greater distance.
It is not like the distance of an airplane flight from here to there.
It is not like the distance that Jay’s parents traveled from the Ukraine to Chicago.
Rather, it is the distance in here (your head), between where you are now and what you can imagine might be possible in your future.
And it is the distance in here (your heart), when you set your heart’s aim on what seems like an impossibly far away goal and give everything you have to achieve it.
It is easy, too easy for you sitting in this auditorium, to think that nothing very special will be possible for you.
It is easy, too easy, to think about the difficult economic conditions that prevail in the world today, and wonder if you will even be able to make a living.
In other words, it is easy to give up — too soon.
Let me tell you a story about that.
Two shoe salesmen were sent to Africa about 100 years ago by two different British shoe companies. Back then, Africa was a very primitive place and these men were sent to the most primitive parts of it.
The salesman from the first company wrote back to his home office in despair: “SITUATION HOPELESS. PEOPLE DON’T WEAR SHOES HERE!”
The second salesman also contacted his office, but his message was rather different: “GLORIOUS OPPORTUNITY. THE PEOPLE HERE DON’T HAVE SHOES YET!”
The point is, sometimes things depend on how you look at them.
If, like Jay Perman, you have talent, courage, and the imagination to see what might be possible for you, then, just maybe, you can become a pediatrician, as Jay is, and eventually a university president.
Sometimes thinking it is possible, makes it possible.
All of us here are waiting, putting some of our money in the form of scholarship awards for a few of you, betting on the possibility that you will do something both great — and good.
And if you do, your classmates will be as proud of you as we are… of Jay Perman.
The photo of Dr. Jay Perman above is sourced from the University of Maryland, Baltimore.