Mabel I. Dove. Chattanooga, Tennessee. November 1903.

The Valedictory Speech of Mabel Dove. Normal University, May 24, 1900.

Miss Mabel Dove was the valedictorian of the evening. She is a girl of striking intellectuality, and the delivery of her address was harmonious with its fine conception. Her voice was pure, vibrant and penetrating, being heard with the greatest ease. Her subject was an odd one: “The Gods Sell Us Everything For Toil,” and she spoke as follows:

The Gods Sell Us Everything For Toil

The subject of the rewards of toil and perseverance is by no means a new one. Many of us have heard it discussed from earliest childhood, but with none the less force it remains a vital practical truth, and will as long as man has the aspirations and will to attain them.

Tis the continued, steady effort that wins where superior advantages without determination and perseverance ignominiously fail. For “a falling drop at last will cave a stone.” It is not the mere drop that wears the stone away, for the insignificant globule by a single fall would wear off a particle almost too infinitesimally small to conceive: but it is the constant falling that finally caves the stone.

Since the command went forth, as the primal pair left the gates of Eden, that man should eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, toil has been the price which the children of earth have paid for aught desirable that they have obtained. Each has been subject to the same law, and as there has been no royal path to knowledge, likewise only labor’s high way has led to eminence and success in all vocations of life. Perseverance, indefatigable energy, and labor have been the cause of which honor and success were the effects. Someone has said that “successful men owe more to their perseverance than to their natural powers, their friends, or to the favorable circumstance around them.”

Thus, the masterly achievements of Julius Caesar were not the inevitable consequences of fated genius; they were the fruits of arduous and incessant exertion coupled, to be sure, with talent and ambition. Such a combination was an open sesame to fortune’s door. “Genius unexerted, is no more genius then a bushel of acorns is a forest of oaks.” So, if the genius of Michelangelo had not been united with strenuous effort, the world would have been less rich, for the immortal masterpieces of sculpture which now ennoble the world of art, would have remained rough and senseless blocks of marble. The shining jewels buried deep in the earth’s dark bosom, are brought to light only by the repeated blows of the miner’s faithful pick. So, the priceless gems of truth may lie in the perpetual darkness, concealed from our view, unless we, by dint of toil and sedulous effort, exhume the crude stone and polish it into a radiant gem that shall be meant to shine upon the brow of posterity.

The eminent Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, from his long experiences in training boys, said, “that the difference between one boy and another was not so much in talent as in energy and determination.” And truly, history abounds with examples of men who have reached their goal only because they willed it and worked for it. It is said when Disraeli, the great English Prime Minister, delivered his first speech in parliament, he made a dismal failure, and was mercilessly laughed at and derided. Stung by the ridicule, he exclaimed, “You laugh at me now, but the time will come when you will hear me.” And by patient industry, he verified his prediction. He forthwith set resolutely to work correcting his faults, studied assiduously, and practiced untiringly till he had mastered the art of oratory. Then those who had once laughed at him now acknowledged his power and sat spellbound under his eloquence. Thus, have man by tireless application accomplished marvels.

The numberless modern improvements and inventions which furnish us, comfort, and convenience, we thoughtlessly enjoy, forgetful of the cost at which they were procured at a cost of years of diligent study, painstaking effort, and toil. Likewise, the advancement in learning and science is the result of careful research, concentrated thought, and persistent application. But success has not been attained in a day, nor yet in a year, but only by many days and many years of faithful and repeated action. But each year is composed of fleeting moments. Verily, life is made up of littles – of seeming trifles that insensibly form the warp and woof of our characters.

How we treat these small things, the flying moments, the little opportunities – how we live each day – will determine their influence on our lives, for “our days and yesterdays are the blocks with which we build.” He who appreciates the value of time, and fills his odd moments with study, or with the pursuit of some high purpose will, at length find himself rich in the possession of a well-stored and cultured mind, or happy in the accomplishment of some darling project. After the distinguished statesman Edmund Burke had finished one of his first eloquent speeches in the English parliament, his brother, speaking at the end of a thoughtful reverie, said, “I have been wondering how Ned has contrived to monopolize all the talent of the family: but then I remember when we’re at play, he was always at work.”

The sad mistake of idly dreaming of fame and longing for greatness is made by man who might achieve it if they only set about it with the invincible determination to win. Without that, it will not come for, “Tis not in mortals to command success: let us do more – deserve it!” Again, many who wish for success are unwilling to battle against adverse circumstances and thinking effort useless, ignobly succumb to unfavorable conditions. Some of the most illustrious characters of history have been those who have risen and achieved great things against difficulties seemingly almost insuperable. Opposition has not baffled them – nay it seemed rather to strengthen their power of resistance. Though it is indeed true that the individual is influenced by circumstances, he need not be enthralled by them. I like the verse in which this thought is thus expressed

“Why become a slave of chance
Why be crushed by circumstance?
Rise above it and advance
Overall adversity.
You’re a king and can create
For yourself your own estate,
You are master of your fate, You are free.”

Free. Yes free! Free, with all the grand future before us. It is our – ours to make or to mar. Ah! If men whose powers have been only the mediocre talents that we possess, have risen to greatness, have bettered the world and left to posterity a goodly heritage – are these, I say have risen, why, or why cannot we, the children of the fairer morn, the heirs of grander possibilities, make the world a little better or a little brighter for our having lived! It lies with us! Cassius voiced it truly when he said, “Men at some time are master of their fate; the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Tis little at best we can do. Newton after spending years in patient toil and giving to the world of science inestimable acquisitions, felt that what he had achieved was like a few shells gathered from the beach while the great ocean of truth lay unexplored before him. But we may not all be great. History may not blazon our names and deeds to be read of future generations. But at least, we can all labor to live, to have rich, abundant lives, to be – not underlings, but to rise to the full stature of god-like race, striving unceasingly for that which is best, rising “by stepping-stones of our dead selves, to high things.”

But still, the moments come and go in their flight, they bring us many things, sorrow as well as joy, partings as well as glad meetings. The moment just now approaching brings a parting of the ways, and as valedictorian for the class of 1900 – long live the Century Class. I must now linger to say a few words of farewell. It seems sad that now in our last glad moment of triumphant happiness we must pause to dash away a tear – tears of sorrow that we who have for many terms, together have trodden the thorny path toward knowledge, must now separate, most of us to go diverging ways, some to other schools of learning, others to the broader schools of practical experience. But as we go, it will be with pleasant memories of the years spent within these college halls, and with that preparation that shall help us to make our way through the world.

During our time of preparing, I trust that we have learned at least some of the lessons that our faithful and earnest preceptors have wished us to master – lessons not always found in textbooks, but suggestive of the life without these scholastic walls which are calling us to action in its busy field. During our stay here, friendship’s silver thread has been woven from heart to heart and both teachers and fellow students have become endeared to us, and in years to come, we may look back upon these quiet days spent in study, and be refreshed. Tonight, itself will soon be but a memory; today be yesterday.

In the golden dawn of tomorrow, duty awaits us, and ours will be the honor if we walk in her ways. Vast are the spheres for our labor, vaster our responsibilities. Let us act worthily of our day, not lying down in ignoble, but acting a brave part in lifting heavenward our fellowmen.

“Build thee more stately mansions, O my Soul.
As the swift, seasons roll!
Leave they low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more fast,
Till thou at length are free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life unresting sea!”

Mabel Isabel Dove
May 24th, 1900.