2014 Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Remarks

Jan. 20, 2014

Opening remarks as prepared for delivery on Jan. 20, 2014, in Richardson Auditorium

This year, as a new feature of the University’s recognition of King Day, members of the Princeton staff are participating in service projects in collaboration with three community partners. This is a fitting tribute to the life of an extraordinary man whose commitment to equality and freedom exemplified service in its highest form. In Dr. King’s brilliant words and selfless actions, we all can find inspiration to dedicate ourselves to supporting and uplifting our communities, from our campus to every corner of the globe. 

Here at Princeton University, service takes many forms. Our students, for instance, devote countless hours to programs sponsored by the Pace Center for Civic Engagement and numerous student organizations to address educational challenges, poverty, human rights, environmental protection, and other vital issues. Our faculty conduct research and make discoveries that illuminate societal problems, and provide policymakers and other leaders with the knowledge and perspectives needed to enact positive change around the world. And our staff members dedicate considerable time to Princeton civic groups and myriad volunteer activities that bring the University and local communities closer together.

Service is and should be at the core of this University’s mission. Indeed, Princeton’s unofficial motto is “In the Nation’s Service and in the Service of All Nations.” Through our teaching and research endeavors, we seek to educate the next generation of leaders, to unlock knowledge for the betterment of society, and to encourage all of our students to examine questions about what it means to live a life of purpose. In seeking to uphold this mission of service, we can turn to the words of Dr. King for inspiration: “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?”

Later during this program ... we also will honor the memory of the legendary South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, who passed away last month—and whose indomitable spirit and profound sacrifice in the name of liberty are as inspirational as those of Dr. King. “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived,” Mandela once said. “It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Every day, not just today, we should be mindful of the examples set by these incomparable crusaders for peace and justice. And we should strive to emulate—in our own ways—their tireless commitment to service to their fellow citizens of the world.