Dr Clifton W. Potter Jr
Until his death, John Turner was a favorite speaker, especially at those events like graduation that mark the turning points in our lives, and luckily he kept most of the notes from the addresses he delivered on those occasions.He also contributed a lengthy essay, “Academic Life” to Jubilee, 1903-1978, the 75th anniversary history of the college. Together they contain his philosophy of education as well as a partial answer to the question, “why Lynchburg College?”
On April 8, 1968, Dean Turner read a memorial meditation in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and in his closing remarks, he eloquently, if unconsciously, summed up his own college experience and the motivation that led him to devote his professional life to his alma mater:
“Let us, the living; search our minds and hearts, our motives and actions, seeking justice. Civilization is a thin cloth covering the beast in man. Christianity often seems a wan hope, Americanism a distorted dream.”
“Have we spoken out publicly for freedom and justice, but privately for oppression and injustice? Have we spoken out publicly and privately for freedom and justice, but in our actions refused to take one step toward a natural involvement in an equal, friendly relationship with any member of a race other than our own? Have we tacitly given in to the fatalistic view that the courts need not be just to a black man, that ghettos and slums cannot be eradicated, that the problems are too much for individuals to alleviate, that corporations can do nothing, and that government should not try because chiselers and bureaucrats scheme to take the money away from the poor?”
“If we have done these things, we cannot absolve ourselves from guilt, but we can resolve to live with more sensitivity and courage in the days ahead, not only as men of good will, but as men of good action. We want peace and order, but peace and order with justice and equality.”
For John Turner, the individual was the central focus of education. Time and time again, he quoted Mark Hopkins’ dictum that the perfect learning environment was one teacher and one student, but he readily admitted that, in the modern world, this was an ideal rarely realized.
He saw four threats to the survival of the self: an uncontrolled population explosion that will reduce people to mere statistics, the substitution of the group ethic for that of the individual, a dependence on mechanical devices—especially the computer—instead of relying on our own powers of reasoning and finally an insidious pessimism about the nature and destiny of humankind.
He devoted his academic career to making sure that LC was safe from these threats to all that he held dear. It was his legacy from his own college days, and he sought to pass it on to us. He said it more eloquently than I ever could:
“Students of this college, there may be times when a sense of futility will make it seem to you that you are anonymous and unimportant.”
“But how fortunate actually you are, to have the ability and the resources to live in a community where students and teachers may share in the fascinating quest for truth. Your years in college are years in which the true self, the better self, may be discovered and developed.”
“If I may advise you, keep physically strong through proper health habits and recreation. Find the values of social relationships in a community where many friends await you with interests and abilities which will make them congenial companions. Search out artistic values and make some of them your own by creation, performance or contemplation. Study and think, testing your ideas by discussion and by the discipline of writing and receiving critical evaluation.”
“Engage in the absorbing adventure in search of religious truth, and act upon the highest values you discover. Prepare for a career in which you will not be merely selfish but in which you will find the true meaning of self-hood through making a constructive contribution to the lives of others.”
“Instead of waiting for meaning to emerge from life, put meaning into life through devotion and service. In so doing you will find, now and in years to come, that you are not anonymous, that the self has not been lost.”
The ideal of corporate humanism embraced by Dr. and Mrs. Hopwood in 1903 was perfectly realized by John Turner in the next generation, but what of today? Is there among us one whose life is in that same harmonious balance, so that poetry comes as easily to them as breath itself? Is that the answer to our query, “why Lynchburg College?” Can you understand it completely, or are you, like I, capable of only a fleeting glimpse of the truth?
Let me try and explain what I mean. Sometimes, and especially while I am reading John Turner’s poetry and prose, I feel like Faithful, the companion of Christian, who is the hero of John Bunyon’s poem, “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”
Christian, after a long and difficult journey, reaches the Celestial City, but Faithful only glimpses it before he dies—but that brief vision is enough.
Was his journey worth the pain? Is one visioning really enough? That I cannot answer; only time will tell.