This snap of Mary Conaway Clark & husband Don was taken December, 2005 in Leavenworth WA. Just look at all the pins on Dons hat, showing a number from their many trips overseas, these are mostly from Germany and Austria.


Click on Shirley's photo above & read a recent letter from her and husband Jerry

Click my photo, above and take a stroll down memory lane with me, Chester Piolatto ~


Sometime back Ed Sylvis asked me to write my feelings of ERHS when I arrived. Click my photo, above



Harvard Divinity School  

Convocation Address

September 17, 1997 Memorial Church 

    Moralists, Maxims and Formation for Ministry 

Ralph B. Potter 

 First Reading: The Gospel According to Matthew 25:31-40. RSV 

When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?" And the King will answer them, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. 

Second Reading: Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) excerpts from “Of the Education of Children,” The Complete Essays of Montaigne, translated by Donald Frame (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1965 [1580]), I, 26, p. 119.  

The soul in which philosophy dwells should by its health make even the body healthy. It should make its tranquillity and gladness shine out from within; should form in its own mold the outward demeanor, and consequently arm it with graceful pride, an active and joyous bearing, and a contented and good-natured countenance. The surest sign of wisdom is constant cheerfulness [une ejouissance constante]; her state is like that of things above the moon, ever serene. It is Baroco and Baralipton that make their disciples dirt-caked and smoky, and not she; they know her only by hearsay. Why, she makes it her business to calm the tempests of the soul and to teach hungers and fevers to laugh, not by some imaginary epicycles, but by natural and palpable reasons. She has virtue as her goal, which is not, as the schoolmen say, set on the top of a steep, rugged, inaccessible mountain. Those who have approached virtue maintain, on the contrary, that she is established in a beautiful plain, fertile and flowering, from where, to be sure, she sees all things beneath her; but you can get there, if you know the way, by shady, grassy, sweetly flowering roads, pleasantly, by an easy smooth slope, like that of the celestial vaults. It is because they have not associated with this virtue - this supreme, beautiful, triumphant, loving virtue, as delightful as she is courageous, a professed and implacable enemy of sourness, displeasure, fear, and constraint, having nature for her guide, fortune and pleasure for companions - that there are men who in their weakness have made up this stupid, sad, quarrelsome, sullen, threatening, scowling image and set it on a rock, in a solitary place, among the brambles: a phantom to frighten people. 


Thank you, Mr. Dean. .I wish to do ethics in the old fashioned way, in a manner accessible to all and bearing directly upon the conduct of our lives. 

We are at the beginning of a new year of professional formation. There will be much to do to master the technical details of the several fields of theological scholarship, which, as professionalization has set in, have become progressively specialized and segregated from one another. 

Whatever the “natural state” of human kind may have been, it did not include membership in a profession. We are being initiated into an artificial set of relations, norms, and practices, which make heavy demands upon us.  

It is good to reflect on the human costs to practitioners, suggested by the French term, “deformation professionelle,” that is, a professional deformation, - a twisting, an impoverishing of human life brought on by conforming to the demands of an occupation.  

My great teacher, James Luther Adams, made the point crisply by citing a tombstone in England which read, “Here lies John Jones, born a man, died a greengrocer.” Are we wise to risk such personal diminution for the sake of our professional contributions, let alone for fame and fortune? 

I want to draw heavily on the work of Moralists, those who have commented, through centuries, upon the mores, the customs and habits of the times. 

You need not blush if you are not acquainted with these commentators on the human condition.. With the exception of Saint Augustine and Aristotle, who slip in, they do not hold a key place in the traditional theological curriculum. Moralists, such as Montaigne, La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyere, made many subversive utterances, but few prophetic proclamations. They observed. They recorded their reflections, guided by the literary maxim, both “to please and to instruct,” - that is, to be accessible to all and to deal directly with the conduct of life. 

Moralists have left a deposit of wisdom. Pedantry and pretension are silly. Fakery and fraud bring dishonor. Bullying engenders reprisal. Power and tyranny are isolating. High position is precarious. Wealth is instrumental. Fame is fickle. Beauty fades. Sensual pleasures are fleeting. Health is to be prized and protected. Friends are the greatest external good. Conversation best resists the encroachments of ageing.  

With regard to weeks immediately to come, Moralists would be likely to recommend that you read roughly half of what is assigned, but think about it twice as much as students have been prone to do. Digest it; make it your own. Enjoy your friends, who will be the custodians of your common history; and cultivate, with easy grace, a variety of accomplishments able to bring you delight and satisfaction over a life time. 

Moralists would also suggest that speakers consider the nature of their audience. By and large, those who come to Harvard Divinity School want to make a difference in the world. Seen in broad historical and comparative perspective, people who come here represent a small sub-set of types of piety and personality. Among those who have ever lived, we are a part of the extreme activist wing.  

Making a difference in this world requires us to influence others. Once that ambition is established we are made hostage to other persons’ perceptions and preferences. We are no longer fully in command of what we shall be as persons Starting from where we are, how are we to make a difference without high-minded self-destruction? 

I have just two headings. The first is: Get a grip on your self. The second is: Prepare to meet the public. The two points are tightly interrelated. Unless you first have a secure grip upon your own character and identity you will be, most likely, torn to shreds by publics great and small. 

I. The first thing, then, is to get a grip on who you are, what rhythms you can sustain, - a pattern of life you would be happy to live if the call to great assignments and opportunities never comes. The centerpiece of my remarks is an extended passage from the final essay of Michel de Montaigne, the greatest of moralists, written in 1588, entitled, “Of Experience.” 

    We are great fools. ‘He has spent his life in idleness,’ we say; ‘I have done nothing today.’ What, have you not lived? That is not only the fundamental but the most illustrious of your occupations. ‘If I had been placed in a position to manage great affairs, I would have shown what I could do.’ Have you been able think out and manage your own life? You have done the greatest task of all. . . To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battles and provinces, but order and tranquillity in our conduct. Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately.  

    There is nothing so beautiful and legitimate as to play the man well and properly, no knowledge so hard to acquire as the knowledge of how to live this life well and naturally; and the most barbarous of our maladies is to despise our being.  

    I love life and cultivate it just as God has been pleased to grant it to us. . . We wrong that great and all-powerful Giver by refusing his gift, nullifying it, and disfiguring it. 

    It is an absolute perfection and virtually divine to know how to enjoy our being rightfully. We seek other conditions because we do not understand the use of our own, and go outside of ourselves because we do not know what it is like inside. Yet there is no use our mounting on stilts, for on stilts we must still walk on our own legs. And on the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting only on our own rump. The most beautiful lives, to my mind, are those that conform to the common human pattern, with order, but without miracle and without eccentricity.” 

Elsewhere, Montaigne says “that we must lend ourselves to others and give ourselves only to ourselves.” . And again, “We must reserve a back shop all our own, entirely free, in which to establish our real liberty and our principal retreat and solitude.” 

Much earlier, Saint Augustine, in the fifth century, gave poignant _expression to the priority of his own life of reflection and friendly sociability as the underlying prerequisite for his public life of sustained service. In Book Nineteen of The City of God, he ponders the cost he has paid in being virtually conscripted to become Bishop of the besieged North African town of Hippo: 

And therefore the love of truth longs for holy leisure; but it is the compulsion of love to undertake requisite business. If no one imposes this burden upon us, we are free to sift and contemplate truth; but if it be laid upon us, we are necessitated for love's sake to undertake it. And yet not even in this case are we obliged wholly to relinquish the sweets of contemplation; for were these to be withdrawn, the burden might prove more than we could bear. 

In our own century, we are to go about our life, on call, enjoying our pursuits in good conscience, unless it can be shown that there is an urgent task that only we are at hand to accomplish.  

We must live within our means. Not only within our financial means, but also within our spiritual, psychological, intellectual, and social means.  

A certain sign of being over-extended is to be continually, habitually busy. There has been an enormous upgrading of the demands of performance within most realms of endeavor.. But still, the activity most likely to keep us perpetually busy is the quest for fame and glory, a scourge difficult to avoid even in academic life. We operate on a star system. It may be helpful in raising the endowment, but it is costly. It fractures collegiality and renders stars inaccessible. It is an invitation to celebrity-mongering and lures would-be imitators into over-extending themselves. Sydney Smith, an Anglican pastor and sometime teacher of moral theology, most famous as a witty dinner guest in early Victorian country homes, put it nicely: “Avoid shame, but do not seek glory, - nothing so expensive as glory.”  

The shortest route to fame and glory is through the extreme elaboration of a single, specialized skill. In contrast, the most certain path to happiness, according to Aristotle, is the balanced realization of our potential in many spheres of action. Sadly, it can make perfect sense to say, “Smith is the world’s greatest physicist, but he’s a boorish, tiresome, nitwit.” Better to be less of a physicist and to get to work on the nitwit problem. 

Currently, we are left unprotected from demands for excellence in a single, narrow area by the breakdown of a common understanding of what a balanced life should be. Being well-balanced does not mean moving from doing one thing obsessively to doing eight things obsessively. The history of ideals of character, studied in cross-cultural perspective, provides much wisdom that can be recovered on what makes a balanced, harmonious life..  

Time saved by not lusting after fame and glory and star status in some narrow sphere can be put to use to enable us better to get a grip on our selves. We can buy back time for two life-enhancing activities: first, to cultivate friends and, secondly, to think our own thoughts. Once again, these two matters are tightly interrelated. 

Aristotle begins his two extraordinary books on friendship in his Nicomachean Ethics with the observation that “Friends enhance our capacity to think and to act.”

To think creatively we need other persons with whom to be in conversation. We need first to get acquainted with them, face-to-face, or side-by-side, so that later we may continue to hear them in our heads as stimulating voices in our own internal dialogue. 

To make a friend, observes Aristotle, “time and familiarity are required. For, as the proverb has it, people cannot know each other until they have eaten a peck of salt together.”  

The greatest benefit of coming to study at Harvard is that one has access to many fellow students of high quality, who make excellent companions. The very word “companion” suggests sitting in the refectory after class. “Panis” is the Latin word for bread. Companions are, first of all, those with whom we take bread. 

To get full benefit of our being here together requires taking time to be companionable. That, in turn, demands something seemingly as far removed from high intellectual engagement as good table manners and polite conduct. Ralph Waldo Emerson explains the reasons: 

    We imperatively require a perception of, and homage to beauty in our companions. Other virtues are in request in the field and workyard, but a certain degree of taste is not to be spared in those we sit with. I could better eat with one who did not respect the truth or the laws, than with a sloven and unpresentable person. Moral qualities rule the world, but at short distances, the senses are despotic. 

Without good manners, no succession of invigorating conversations. Without conversation, no friends. Without friends, no enhancement of our capacity to think and act. 

Jean de la Bruyere, a perceptive seventeenth century French moralist, provided the punch line: “A man must have very eminent qualities to hold his own without being polite.” 

Free and vigorous conversation with companions makes up for the deficiencies of our classroom curriculum: Francis Bacon observed that “reading makes a full man, writing an exact man, and conversation a ready man” Course work tends to be short on the conversational opportunities that perfect the capacities most needed in future ministries. Field education can help. I know of no Moralist who would disagree with the maxim of La Rochefoucauld, "It is more essential to study people than books." (#550) 

If you hope to make a difference in the world, - to influence people, - it is best to move among them, to listen, to observe, to learn their commonplaces. Schooling, as Montaigne observes, is only a preliminary preparation for wider education: 

The great world. . . is the mirror in which we must look at ourselves to recognize ourselves from the proper angle. In short, I want it to be the book of my student. So many humors, sects, judgments, opinions, laws, and customs teach us to judge sanely of our own, and teach our judgment to recognize its own imperfections and natural weakness, which is no small lesson.  

There are good reasons to rejoice in our being here, this day. Through life together, - by brushing up against one another in classrooms, hallways, dormitories, and gatherings, - we may learn to judge accurately the level of performance we are each capable of sustaining without strain, without injury to ourselves, or to our spouses and our offspring.  

We are free to find delight in ‘the sweets of contemplation’ and good fellowship. Our second reading reminded us, according to my own translation: 

    The soul in which philosophy dwells should by its health make even the body healthy. . . The surest sign of wisdom is a steady outgoing joyousness. 


If you wish to make a difference in the world it can be attempted from the top down or from the bottom up, by direct or indirect means. Each entails an encounter with a public and a struggle. 

Ministry is a public role. People who perform in public are liable to become famous, perhaps notorious, but most assuredly, visible. Prominent people are known to many more persons than they can hope even to identify. Friends are related to one another in the same role, as friend-to-friend. In contrast, public figures relate to their publics as performers do to audiences. Their lot, most often, is unsympathetic scrutiny, envy, rivalry, and gossip, obscured by the illusory glamor of being recognized. 

Struggle is also the lot of those who undertake ‘to make a difference in the world’. Their vision will not be uncontested. Other persons and groups have their own ideas about how the world should be ordered.  

In working from the top down, you might seek to penetrate policy-making circles in the hope of guiding decisions of great scope by direct participation. For that, you may have come to the right university, but perhaps to the wrong faculty! 

Penetrating into elite circles is a practical art that has been closely studied for centuries as the political analogue to social climbing. Newcomers, throughout history, have sought to cultivate attributes and accomplishments which will commend them to incumbents. Balthasar Castiglione, in 1516, one year before the Protestant Reformation, finished The Book of the Courtier, the great text of all those who aspire to make the world better by whispering wise counsel into the ears of rulers. 

Today, if one starts with the hope of impressing others, it is more difficult to determine which attributes to cultivate and to put on display. We now have many rulers. Political power is more dispersed and has devolved upon a vast and diverse public. There are many more admirable human qualities, prized in different quarters, than any of us can embody in a single life. That leaves us always vulnerable to the charge that we are not all that we should be, an accusation troublesome both to political and to romantic ambition.  

The way is always open to working from the bottom up. Indirect influence upon decisions may be exercised by those able to generate ground swells of new sensibilities and organize effectively. But allies will be needed. How are they to be recruited? It would seem that Divinity graduates must depend principally upon moral argument and moral example. 

Moral argument has its uses and its limitations. Academic ethics can help us to get our reasons straight and to keep in good repair the public utility of moral reasoning. We can help untangle arguments. But no new dose of ethical theory, applied by disinterested third-parties, offering their services as honest brokers, is likely to unlock the debate about abortion, for example. We face stalemates that cannot be dissolved by expert opinion. 

In a highly diverse society, moral sentiments do not readily yield to claims of specialized knowledge, competence, office, or authority.  

Formal credentials, including Harvard diplomas, will not do. To make an impression in a diverse society one must have the extraordinary quality of ‘moral weight’ It cannot be purchased with tuition money or foundation grants. It can be paid for only with one’s own life’s blood. The widest public is best engaged by exhibition of the widest and deepest humanity. 

Moral weight belongs first to those who come closest to realizing in their conduct the two most imperative moral demands, those of harming no one and not abandoning the afflicted. Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. come most readily to mind as exemplary figures. 

But there are others, many others, known locally or not at all, who command our deep respect, whose words and deeds count with us because of their willingness, in obscure and often dangerous places, without need or prospect of glory, both to help and to hurt not. 

Integrity and courage in obscure and dangerous posts is, thus, another basis of moral weight.. Montaigne, much admired for his own modest rectitude, praised, in his military idiom, the valor of unsung heroes, in a passage that moves me deeply: 

    To make actions be known and seen is purely the work of fortune. It is chance that attaches glory to us according to its caprice. . . An infinity of fine actions must be lost without a witness before one appears to advantage. A man is not always at the top of a breach or at the head of an army, in sight of his general, as on a stage. He is taken by surprise between the hedge and the ditch; he must tempt fortune against a hen roost; he must root out four paltry musketeers from a barn; he must go out alone from his company to do a job alone, as the need presents itself. And if you watch carefully, you will find by experience that the least brilliant occasions happen to be the most dangerous.  

One can translate the thought back into civilian pursuits. In our communities we have persons who have earned moral weight through faithful service ‘to the least of these, my siblings’. 

They may be single parents, ‘taken by surprise between the hedge and the ditch’, forced ‘to do the job alone’ to get the kids to school. They may be persons fighting the invasion of drugs into their neighborhood. ‘If you watch carefully, you will find . . . that the least brilliant occasions happen to be the most dangerous’. Brave and kindly persons, who have never won famous prizes, are making a difference in the world, humbly, in tiny increments, from the bottom up. 

What they do is comprehensible to persons of all backgrounds, beliefs, and affiliations. They feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned. They shelter the homeless and the victims of violence. They protect those caught in the cross-fire of city streets. They stand firm in rural communities menaced by fanatic militias. They have universal appeal by ministering to the most universal human needs. 

If you wish to make a difference, speak and act out of our common humanity. Stick close to the common ground. Get a grip on your self and prepare to meet the public.  

Montaigne’s conclusion is also my own: “The most beautiful lives are those that conform to the common human pattern, with order, but without miracle and without eccentricity.” 

In closing, I have three left-overs. Although the authors I have cited are all men, a number of brilliant women have enlivened and expanded the tradition of Moralists. They range, say, from Madame de Sevigne, the seventeenth century letter-writer, through Jane Austen, the novelist, to our own Judith Martin, better known as Miss Manners. Male or female, the wisdom of each is available to all. 

There remain two humorously awkward matters. Here I am, in this high pulpit, contending for glory by telling you to resist the temptation of glory. Two thousand years ago, Cicero skewered persons in my position by noting that “Even philosophers who write books decrying fame sign their names on the title pages.”  

Moreover, if I had followed, early in my career, the advice I am now giving, I would not be here to deliver it.  

When my turn comes up again, I will address such issues. 


“We are great fools. ‘He has spent his life in idleness,’ we say; ‘I have done nothing today.’ What, have you not lived? That is not only the fundamental but the most illustrious of your occupations. . .” Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), The Complete Essays of Montaigne, translated by Donald Frame (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1965 [1580]). “Of Experience” [1587-88], Book Three, Essay 13, pp. 814-857. 

“My opinion is that we must lend ourselves to others and give ourselves only to ourselves.” Ibid. “On Husbanding Your Will,” Book Three, Essay 10, pp. 766-784. 

“We must reserve a back shop all our own, entirely free, in which to establish our real liberty and our principal retreat and solitude.” Ibid., “Of Solitude” [1572-74], Book One, Essay 39, pp. 174-183. 

“And therefore the love of truth longs for holy leisure ; but it is the compulsion of love to undertake requisite business. . .” Augustine (354-430), The City of God, translated by Marcus Dods (New York: Modern Library, 1950), Book Nineteen, Ch. 19, pp. 697f. Slightly revised 

“Avoid shame, but do not seek glory, - nothing so expensive as glory.” Sydney Smith, cited in A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith, by his Daughter, Lady Holland, (London: Longman and Company, 1855), Volume One, Chapter 4. 

Friends enhance our capacity to think and to act.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, VIII 

Time and familiarity are required. For, as the proverb has it, people cannot know each other until they have eaten a peck of salt together.” Ibid., VIII, 3. 

“We imperatively require a perception of, and homage to beauty in our companions. . .” Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Manners,” in Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1951), p. 360. 

“A man must have very eminent qualities to hold his own without being polite.” The Characters of Jean de la Bruyere (8th edition, 1694), translated by Henri van Laun (NY: Scribner and Welford, 1885), Book Six, "Of Society and Conversation," Paragraph 32, pp. 114-15. 

"It is observed by Bacon, that 'reading makes a full man, conversation a ready man, and writing an exact man.'" “Of Studies” (1612), in Francis Bacon: A Selection of His Works, edited by Sidney Warhaft (New York: Odyssey Press, 1965). Compare, Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), The Adventurer, Number 85, Tuesday, August 28, 1753, "The Role of the Scholar," in Samuel Johnson, The Oxford Authors, edited by Donald Greene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 269-273.  

"It is more essential to study people than books." La Rochefoucauld, Maxim 550. in The Maxims of La Rochefoucauld, translated by Louis Kronenberger (New York: Random House Modern Library, 1959). 

The great world is . . . the mirror in which we must look at ourselves to recognize ourselves from the proper angle. . .” Montaigne, Essays, “Of the Education of Children,” [1579-80], Book One, Essay 26, p.113. 

“To make actions be known and seen is purely the work of fortune. It is chance that attaches glory to us according to its caprice. . .” Montaigne, Essays, “Of Glory,” Book Two, Essay 16, pp. 468-478, p. 471. 

“Even philosophers who write books decrying fame sign their names on the title pages.” Cicero, In Defense of Archias in Selected Works of Cicero, translated by Harry M. Hubbell (Roslyn, NY: Walter J. Black, 1948), p.154. Compare, Cicero Tusculan Dispurations, translated by J. E. King (Cambridge: Loeb Classical Library, 1971 [1927], Cicero, Volume XVIII, Book One, XV, 34, p. 40. 

[RPConvo97, 4363 words, 52kb, 12pt]



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Black students: 1.9%
Hispanic students: 61.9%
Asian students: 5.6%
Native American students: 0.7%
Filipino students: 17.3%
Pacific Islander students: 0.2%
Multi-racial/other students: 0.0%
White students: 352
Black students: 53

Native American students: 19

Filipino students: 492
Hispanic students: 1757
Pacific Islander students: 5
Multi-racial/other students: 0
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Grade 7 students meeting California Fitness Test standards: 27.1%
Grade 9 students meeting California Fitness Test standards: 19.6%

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