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On equality, justice, and working together

Jun 2nd, 2020

By James F. Mellichamp
President, Piedmont College

In the past several days, I have been struck by two widely divergent views of our country.  On the one hand, we have been awed by images of the astronauts gliding gracefully toward the International Space Station.  On the other hand, we have been sickened by scenes of brutal chaos taking place in cities around our country.  How can we as a society be so successful in working toward the common goal of reaching outer space while at the same time so disjointed that we’ve lost sight of our American ideals of equality and justice for all?

Piedmont College, in its Mission Statement, dedicates itself to the development of compassionate leaders.  Our Core Values speak of the importance of embracing diversity and the cultivation of ethical reasoning by our actions.  I am proud to be a faculty member and president of an institution where, for the past 38 years, I have had an opportunity to help define and support the inclusive and supportive atmosphere we have here.  It is no secret that students and their families recognize something unique and special in the principles we strive to uphold.

What we are viewing in our country now are the results of a philosophy seeking to divide and conquer rather than looking for common ground to unite us.  I am ashamed to see individuals and groups who are content with “the ends justify any means.”  We need compassionate leaders now more than ever – leaders who value diversity in our society instead of using our differences to drive us apart.  We need an America that is nice again.

Lillian E. Smith – author, arbiter of social justice, and alumna of Piedmont College – penned these words many years ago:  “The question in crisis or ordeal is not: Are you going to be an extremist? The question is: What kind of extremist are you going to be?" The answer, I believe, is that we need to be extremely compassionate.  We need to be extremely ethical.  We need to be extremely inclusive.

For me, I am optimistic that we will find it possible to be these things – not just on our Piedmont campus – but in the wider world beyond.  That is my fervent prayer.  As the prophet Micah exhorts all of us:  We should “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.”