Emma Bailly was a long way from her home of Milford, Pennsylvania, when she graduated as a four-year senior, in 1906. As KUA’s Valedictorian, she was asked, as she would be today, to give the commencement address. Valedictorian Addresses are sometimes reprinted in Kimball Union publications, but Emma’s was not. I doubt we would ever have read it if faculty member Dustin Meltzer, class of 2005, hadn’t noticed a few months ago that it was for sale on eBay. It has now been returned to KUA 114 years after Emma wrote it and added to our Archives Collection.
Here is a very small portion of her message to her classmates, faculty, family and friends:
“It is the irrevocable law of nature that the old order must yield to the new. The caterpillar must give up his happy, lazy, comfortable existence. Does he realize that he is to awaken some day in a changed form? When he becomes a beautiful butterfly, under the gauzy wings is still visible the ugly shape of the worm. But if there had been no uncouth caterpillar, there could have been no comely butterfly. Each autumn the leaves wither and fall to the ground. Is their labor ended? The luxuriance and splendor of the Springtime bud and blossom bespeak the nourishment of a ground laden with the fall of last year’s leaves. The analogy applies quite as well to the material and abstract ideas of man, as to the spontaneous workings of nature. Although the glory of ancient Rome lies deeply buried beneath the monumental ruin of her proud walls, that eternal city still survives in the excellent and well proved laws of our modern civilization. So too does time honored Greece sway the aesthetic culture of today with her matchless creations in art and sculpture, and exert a powerful influence over the theological world by the vague, mystical philosophy of a beautiful, fanciful, yet pagan religion….”
Having learned that Emma spent her life as a teacher, including several years as a teacher of the blind, I feel she was saying to her classmates as she was about to leave KUA for the last time, that the foundations for learning and the experiences one receives as a youth, go with us always. Even though the people who gave the lessons or provided the experiences will no longer be beside us, they are part of who we are today and who we will become in the future. I think she was encouraging each of her classmates to become a “comely butterfly” and a “Springtime bud and blossom” as they entered the world outside of Kimball Union.
Many Congratulations to the Class of 2019 and best wishes for the future from the Archives Room, the keepers of the Past!