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A GRADUATION SPEECH: 1977/PART TWO

Let’s look at the final set, the mystery set.
"Let’s look at the final set, the mystery set. In this set, I offer the following household names: Emmeline Pankhurst, George Willig, Rocky, and Prometheus. Now that group doesn’t quite have the resounding easily-classifiable ring of the classical and athletic heroes, but that's why I call them the mystery group. What makes them a set? You, ninth graders, are trained to detect anomalies and common characteristics and to determine who or what belongs in a set and who or what does not. So, let’s looks at these last four people and see if they are a set, or what kind of set they are.

"Emmeline Pankhurst believed in women’s rights and particularly in women’s right to vote. She actively advocated the right to vote for women in Britain against massive political and police opposition. She was jailed for her beliefs, and to attract attention to her problem, she went on a hunger strike.

"The authorities were so offended and threatened by her hunger strike that they force-fed Emmeline Pankhurst; they force-fed her using tubes so vigorously that they inflicted what many believe was mortal damage to the tissues of her alimentary canal. She later died from these injuries. There is someone who deliberately took a terrifying physical risk and who converted humiliation into victory, but she devoted her life to a principle. I offer you her name as a member of the hero class because she suffered for an ideal -- for a principle of great importance to millions of people.

"Next is George Willig. You all know George. George is the man who a week or so ago marched out on the streets of New York to the base of the World Trade Center, 110 stories high, took out some homemade engineering equipment, and proceeded to climb to the top. Thousands watched him. Wall Street was stock still, $250,000 worth of police and fire department downtime was incurred in trying to protect him and the crowds, but he got to the top of the building and lived to tell about it. Was he a hero? Well, he certainly ran a serious risk of losing life and limb. He didn’t die gloriously and that set him back a little, but there was a principle involved in what he was doing that was very appealing. He was asserting it seems to me that in this technological age man is still the master of his technology. His dramatic statement, his assertion of the individuality of man, is worth at least a footnote in the definition of heroism.

Rocky is my third mystery candidate. Rocky wasn’t a particularly good fighter, but he decided he was going to get in the ring with the champion and survive for fifteen rounds, and he did. It was a terrific fight. Rocky survived; Rocky wasn’t a champion in Ring Magazine, but Rocky inspired a lot of discouraged people, and that’s heroic-- simply to tell us all that, even if we have limited abilities, even if we haven’t been doing very well so far, an irresistible outburst of determination lies within the capacities of all of us, and that there is no telling what we can do if we really try.

The final member of this set is Prometheus. Prometheus was a Titan; that’s what pre-Christian writers called the people who did things which were superhuman but sub-godlike because they could not otherwise explain how anything like the creation of the universe could have taken place. Prometheus had a job to do in connection with the creation of mankind. In trying to give man something extra special, he took from the gods the gift of fire and presented it to man. Prometheus thought he was just doing his job, but the gods were unhappy about this because it appeared to give man the ability to threaten the superiority of the gods. To put Prometheus in his place, they bound him to a rock and commissioned a vulture to tear out his liver every day and commissioned somebody else to put in back every night. He had to bear this torture for endless ages, And he bore it with courage and majesty. His willingness to endure extreme pain for the sake of others is the highest form of heroism, and in Prometheus, we find a romantic version of the ultimate hero-- the champion of mankind. And that’s what all members of this set were-- champions of mankind, each in his/her own way.
  
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Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.