category: President's Blog

July 2021: Reflections on America at 245

July 2021 President's Blog

This July, I was able to get away for a little vacation.  With Kim and our daughter, Rachel, I spent Independence Day in Massachusetts…birthplace of the American Revolution.  July 4th in the Bay State is all about the Boston Tea Party, battles against the British at Lexington and Concord, and lots of Sam Adams (the Founding Father, not the beer).  Even today, 245 years into the great American experiment, folks in Massachusetts still proudly celebrate their history as home to the “shot heard round the world.”  And, after all, their Foxborough-based NFL franchise (you may have heard of them) still goes by the name “Patriots.”

Wherever you celebrated July 4th, it probably included some combination of outdoor grilling, fireworks, parades, and traditional patriotic music.  As big a fan as I am of patriotic music (Ray Charles’ rendition of “America the Beautiful” gives me chills every time), I’ve come to associate a much more contemporary song with July the Fourth.  “Forever Young” was composed by Rod Stewart in collaboration with Bob Dylan and released in 1988.  For purposes of this personal vignette, the irony of Stewart being British really doesn’t matter.  Nor does it matter that the song’s original intent had nothing to do with America, with our past as a country, or with our future.  I just like the lyrics:

May the good Lord be with you down every road you roam.
And may sunshine and happiness surround you when you’re far from home.
And may you grow to be proud, dignified and true.
And do unto others as you’d have done to you.
Be courageous and be brave.
And in my heart you’ll always stay

Forever young. (Forever young)
Forever young. (Forever young)

May good fortune be with you, may your guiding light be strong,
Build a stairway to heaven with a prince or a vagabond.
And may you never love in vain.
And in my heart you will remain

Forever young. (Forever young)
Forever young. (Forever young)
Forever young. Forever young

And when you fin’lly fly away, I’ll be hoping that I served you well.
For all the wisdom of a lifetime, no one can ever tell.
But whatever road you choose, I’m right behind you win or lose,

Forever young. (Forever young)
Forever young. (Forever young)
Forever young. Forever young
For forever young

America, 245 years young.  Full of promise, hope, and…yes, imperfections, many imperfections.  But it’s a place we proudly call home.  A country that was founded on noble ideals, yet one that has struggled with its share of ignoble deeds.  An idea with boundless potential, limited only by our own…well…human limitations.

I suppose what inspires me the most about the American experiment is that we routinely get the opportunity—the freedom—to make and remake ourselves as a country and as a society.  That freedom, I believe, keeps us young.  As Americans, we determine whether we “grow to be dignified, proud and true.”  Whatever we face each day, we can choose anew to “be courageous and be brave,” to follow God’s “guiding light,” and to build our own “stairway to heaven.”  Forever young.  Forever young.

flag hanging at Webb Hall on Independence Day

To bring the emotion a bit closer to home, we at Gardner-Webb have only been around for a portion of America’s story.  At a mere 116 years old, this special place we call GWU is a microcosm of the sentiments expressed in Stewart’s song. 

Our University renews and refreshes itself each August when new students step foot on our campus.  The rebirth that comes with each new academic year is exciting.  It’s what attracts many of us to higher education, and it keeps us here…feeling young.  New energy, new ideas, new challenges, new opportunities…it’s only July, but I can’t wait for August!

I don’t think our friends in Massachusetts have anything on us when it comes to patriotism.  I’m so proud that in the past year Gardner-Webb has begun new traditions recognizing both Veterans Day and Memorial Day.  I’m proud to see Old Glory displayed prominently across our campus.  I am equally proud that as a University we gather together, as all Americans should, not just to celebrate those things that unite us but to authentically discuss those things that stand to divide us. 

Friends, I hope you all had a good July 4th.  I hope that you took some time, as I did, to reflect on what it means to be an American.  I hope that in our own special corner of this country we can serve her well, each and every day.

May the good Lord be with you down every road you roam.  Forever young.

Dr. William M. Downs

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