On the Uncommon Man
Remarks by Telephone from New York City to Wilmington College, Wilmington, Ohio
November 11, 1948
I am glad to speak even for a few moments in the encouragement to Wilmington College. Wilmington is not soliciting funds. The reason is that the faculty and students are earning their own keep and building their own buildings with their own hands. Although they ask for no money, the good they are doing deserves help from anyone who has any money to give. The country needs the encouragement of people so distinguished in their reliance on self-help. Those who help themselves ought to be helped.
I believe in the mass production of education of our great universities because I see no other way to meet the enormous demand of two and one-half million youth seeking higher education. But our small colleges do a special job in building morals and character. And character is the most precious asset of our country.
We have heard much in these months about the common man. It is dinned into us that this is the century of the Common Man. The idea seems to be that the common man has come into his own at last.
Thus we have developed a cult of the common man. I have not been able to find any definition of who this common man is. Most American men, and especially women, will fight if called common. Likewise in humility we refer to ourselves as made from common clay, but we get mad when anyone says our feet are made of clay.
However, whoever this political common man is, I want him to have all of the unique benefits of the American way of life, including a full opportunity to rise to leadership. And we must have this uncommon sort of men and women, if we are to have leadership in government, in science, in education, in the professions, and in the home.
Let us remember that the great human advances have not been brought about by mediocre men and women. They were brought about by distinctly uncommon men and women with vital sparks of leadership. Many of these great leaders were, it is true, of humble origin, but that was not their greatness.
It is a curious fact that when we get sick, we want an uncommon doctor; if we have a construction job, we want an uncommon engineer; when we get into war, we dreadfully want an uncommon admiral and an uncommon general. Only when we get into politics are we content with the common man.
Whatever these forces may be, you are striving to become uncommon men and women. And the future of America will be in your hands. Our full hope of recovery in the moral and spiritual world is a wealth of uncommon men and women among our people. It is our educational institutions that must promote and train them.
Therefore, I am for Wilmington College. And I want to congratulate its president, its faculty, and its students on three counts. The first is its revolutionary idea of self-help; the second is that it is a small college; and the third, that from it will flow uncommon men and women-and the nation needs them.