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Pura/My Turn: Our greatest treasure

Editor’s note: The following were part of Greenfield Community College President Robert Pura’s remarks at graduation this year.

I first discovered “The Greatest Treasure” a short essay written by Catherine Ingram about 15 years ago. It is the story of a young man who grew up in poverty and how he then seeks great treasures in ancient Cairo. In closing, I would like to share an adaptation of that parable — “The Greatest Treasure.”

Not too long ago, a GCC student sat in your chair under this tent about to graduate. He had struggled to make ends meet all of his life, depending on financial aid to get him through. On the eve of graduation, that student had a dream — a vision really.

In it, he saw himself walking on a street in a major American city. The buildings were tall and glistening, treasures in and of themselves. In his vision he saw himself living in the penthouse of one of the buildings — floor to ceiling windows surrounded the two-floor condominium. He owned another home at the ocean’s edge, cars, boats and planes at his disposal. He had all the riches a man could want.

It was also in his dream that one day he would work for this one particular company and CEO. That CEO was considered one of the world’s most influential leaders.

So, even as he sat under this tent at his graduation, he was thinking only of those great treasures — one day to be his own. Soon after, he set out on his journey to achieve his dream.

After a few years, another degree and working up the ladder of success — he finally was to meet with the CEO for a personal conversation. As he entered the board room, the CEO was sitting, waiting for him. All of his dreams were now coming true.

He sat down at the table and looked into the eyes of the president of the company. “Good morning,” he said, sitting down next to her. “Ever since I was a struggling student I dreamt of great treasures and wealth, living in this city and working for you.”

The CEO was silent for what seemed like hours. Her gray hair spoke of the years of experience that framed the wisdom seen in her eyes. She looked at the young man as if she had known him all of his life. She started to speak. Her voice was clear, gentle, centered and strong.

“It’s strange” the CEO said to the young man. “I, too, had a dream. I dreamt of a young man who also struggled all of his life and who also graduated from a community college.

“In my dream,” she said, “that man looked exactly like you.”

“Please go on,” implored the young man, certain that she was about to reveal to him all of the secrets of the universe about success and the acquisition of great wealth. The CEO then proceeded to describe her dream — her vision.

“I dreamt that I had found a community of hard-working people who cared deeply about each other and who worked shoulder to shoulder — side by side. It was a place where you can drive through beautiful farm land and rolling hills; canoe along the river that ran through it, eagles perched above; where you can saunter through the woods crunching leaves in every step; a community where art and culture matter as much as good jobs at good wages, where a sustainable economy was as essential as access to quality health care; a community where vocation and avocation can be one — where the poets and artists were also the bankers and manufacturers; where collaboration was not a strategic plan but a 200-year-old way of life; a community where social, economic and environmental justice were embraced as one.”

“You see” said the sage CEO, “the greatest treasure I could dream of was found in your community and with you.”

The young man now sitting back in his chair began to realize what that very wise leader was saying and trying to teach him. He stood, shook her hand, thanked her, walked toward the door and then prepared for his journey back home.

Dear Graduates, The American Dream needs an update and you are up to the task. It is, after all, our dream. Could it be that the very best of our nation’s values and ideals exist here in our community as a model for America? Could it be that embedded deep within each of us, we find the one place where democracy truly resides? It very well could be after all — that the greatest of treasures are not those that are out there — maybe the greatest treasures we could dream of are right here inside — and in your own back yard.

As you know, poet, author and activist Maya Angelou has died. It is not the sorrow of her passing that we will remember, but the spirit that she brought to your graduation.

So she sends this gift, from her poem, “A Brave and Startling Truth,”

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet

Traveling through casual space

Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns

To a destination where all signs tell us

It is possible and imperative that we learn

A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it

We, this people, on this wayward, floating body

Created on this earth, of this earth

Have the power to fashion for this earth

A climate where every man and every woman

Can live freely without sanctimonious piety

Without crippling fear

When we come to it

We must confess that we are the possible

We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world

That is when, and only when

We come to it.

To the great Class of 2014, you are the possible, you are the miraculous and you have been our greatest treasure. Congratulations to you all and God speed!

Robert Pura is president of Greenfield Community College.

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