Message to Graduates from Across Time

In May 1913, Pearl Elizabeth Felps walked to the podium as the valedictorian of the first graduating of the new Central High School, located at the corner of Canal (now Hooper) and Sullivan roads. A copy of her speech was discovered in 2009 and given to the Central City News.
It is a timeless message that resonates as well today as it did 106 years ago. She spoke of the importance of hard work, courage, intelligence, and determination.  Pearl Elizabeth Felps earned her place as Central’s first Valedictorian seven years before women got the right to vote in United States on Aug. 26, 1920.  Imagine this young woman rising to the podium in front of the high school at Canal and Sullivan. It was not the busy intersection it is today. Children played in these roads and were known to lay down and take a nap in the street without the slightest fear of a motor car coming along. Horse-drawn buses called “hacks” carried students to school, and people generally walked or rode on horseback wherever they needed to go.
On this day, the entire Central community gathered for the graduation ceremonies, and Miss Felps was ready. Here’s what she said:

by Pearl Elizabeth Felps
Central High Valedictorian 1913

The boys and girls of today are standing with reluctant feet where the brooks and rivers meet; ready to step out into the busy world, each to seek his vocation in life. We might hold to the past, were it possible, and let our famous men and women of this day and time still carry on the progress of nations. But ever since the dawn of civilization, God has so willed it that each generation has its part to contribute to the great revolving cycle of progress. This is the period of our lives where, at last, the round of changes has carried us to the vast river whose current is moving steadily and surely into the mystic future. Can we proudly stand and meet the responsibilities thus forced upon us? To do so, we must buckle on the armor of labor. Fortune smiles only on those who, with up rolled sleeves and willing hands, put their shoulders to the wheel and brave the storms. There is no other road to success.
Fortune is a fickle goddess, and one must woo long and patiently who would win her smiles. “When you start upon a road, keep a comin’, Throw away your prop and goad, but keep a comin’, Though the way seems hard and long, Bear in mind you must be strong, lend a hand to all the throng, and keep a comin’.”
Adam and Eve were thrust from the garden of Eden with these words, “By the sweat of thy brow, thou shall earn thy bread.” There was divine eternal love in this seemingly harsh command, for labor has ever been the workshop from which has evolved models of pure gold, refined and tempered by the conflict in which even “the stars in their courses seemed to fight against Sisera.”
History tells us of no advance that has been made over the plain of progress, except by labor. If we have intelligence, slowly and steadily moves earth, sea and time, onward, still onward and upward is the clarion call.
Our graduation day may be compared to a horse race, each with an equal start, each bound for the goal; one, two, three years pass; one or two ahead, three or four close behind, some slothful, others diligent and some dropped out entirely. But the race is “not to the strong,” but to the one who labors long and earnestly and trustfully.  There is no boy or girl, if he has the element of ability about him, who cannot make some success in life. Where there is a will, there is a way.
What has labor done for our grand old America since our first discoverers landed here in such frail and unsafe boats? It has leveled the cliffs to build upon; smoothed the plains and felled the forests; seized disease and throttled its venom. Not only converted it from the desert abode of savages to the beautiful houses of civilization, but has gone down into the bowels of the earth and revealed the wonderful treasures hidden there.
It has converted the little unsafe boats of our discoverers into steel ships a thousand feet long, carrying hundreds of passengers. Not only have our oceans been underlaid with cables, but this majestic steamer is outfitted with wireless telegraphy. The railroads and telegraphy bring the ends of the earth together.
In 1914, labor will again give to us one of the most wonderful changes in commerce, the completion of the Panama Canal, where the waves of the broad Atlantic will flow to meet those of the deep Pacific. And where will the nation gain her victory?  All will answer by labor.
It is no doubt true that the boys and girls of today have the advantage of our forefathers, for we have so many models from which to fashion our patterns. But we must remember that one week of life now has almost as much possibility in it as the year had a century ago.
We are living in one of the most wonderful ages in the history of the world. There has never been an age when such great things were in the making, and the call is for boys and girls willing to labor in the coming contest.
Never before has there been such opportunities for boys and girls, and the boys and girls of today will be the citizens of tomorrow. Let us pick up Daniel Webster’s quotation in his eloquent oration at Bunker Hill: “Let our age be an age of improvement. Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up and promote all of its great interests. Let us extend our ideas over the whole of the vast field in which we are called to act.”
See if the greatest men and women who have ever lived cannot be the men and women of tomorrow.
Labor is the rainbow of promise to every aspiring youth, and the hope of our world’s greatest nation.
LOOKING BACK 105 years, do you understand Miss Felps’ speech?
Consider these questions:
1. What is the place where brooks and rivers meet?
2. Why does she talk about a river whose current is moving us into the future?
3. When she urges buckling on the armor of labor, why would her audience be familiar with a similar phrase?
4. Who was Sisera?
5. When she says the race is “not to the strong,” where did she get that quote?

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