Iowa U.S. Congressman Leonard Boswell’s Constitution Day speech Sept. 17th at Graceland University was the first event to take place in the brand new Shaw Center’s stunning Carol Hall recital facility, and the congressman chose the occasion to reminisce a little about how growing up on a family farm in Decatur County set the tone for his lifetime of public service.
Congressman Boswell is a 1955 Graceland graduate and member of the university’s Board of Trustees. He is a humble man who truly appreciates what he called “…the privilege of living in the United States.” He quoted from the Constitution’s preamble, referring to it as “…an agreement that ‘We the People’ make with one another. Out of many, we are one,” he said to an audience of Graceland students, faculty and staff, and area residents. “I believe this captures the importance of the Constitution. Together, we ‘all’ look out for the general welfare of ‘all’ of our people. Together, we strive for a more perfect union.”
The congressman’s speech was the inaugural event in Carol Hall, the state-of-the-art recital hall that is part of the new Shaw Center, a beautiful performing arts center that will be dedicated at Graceland’s Homecoming 2012 the weekend of October 19-21. It is the gift of JR and Carol Shaw. JR hails from GU’s Class of 1956.
The irony was not lost on the, shall we say, older people in attendance, that Congressman Boswell, one of Graceland’s greatest native sons, was the first to appear before an audience in the shiny new Carol Hall. Boswell noted its beauty and said he was honored to christen such a “marvelous facility.”
Boswell is running for reelection this fall in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District. He was joined on stage briefly by 1981 Graceland graduate Scott Ourth, who is running for the Iowa legislature in Warren County (Indianola). The congressman asked Ourth to speak briefly about the “tribute” each American pays to those who made America what it is by casting their vote on Election Day. “It is perhaps your greatest right,” Ourth said. “It is how you can pay tribute to those who did not always have the right to vote, like women, like black Americans. It is your way to pay tribute to those who have died to protect your country.”
Boswell quipped that “…neither Scott nor I are speaking to people here today who can vote for us. We are here because we believe in the Constitution and we love Graceland University and southern Iowa.”
It was Boswell who pulled on audience heartstrings when he reminisced about growing up west of Lamoni and attending a one-room schoolhouse. “There was a sign on the wall,” he said, “that read ‘Learn to read and your mind will take you anywhere you want to go.’” He said he paid attention to that sign. He called education “…an investment with a known return” and pointed to Graceland University as a shining example of “…a wonderful place to make that investment.”
He spoke about “the old days” as a boy on a farm and how he learned that when neighbors were in need you dropped everything and went to help. He said he didn’t get that at first, but one time he was very excited about getting to ride the corn picker for the first time and at the last minute the family went to help a neighbor in need. “It sunk in that day,” he said. “Everyone came together. Everyone did the right thing.” He said it is the same with good government, government that works. “We must come together, always, to do the right thing.”
The congressman acknowledged that we live in rancorous times of partisan politics: “…about the worst I have ever seen.” He told a story about his days in the Iowa legislature when two legislators, one from the far left, one from the far right, fought it out – “almost like in combat” – over every issue, and yet they sat down to dinner together in the evening. “The right and the left,” he said, “must continue to move toward the middle. We’ve done it in the past. It must happen again, now. We’ve got to work our way toward the middle.”
With a last story, told it seemed to humor his wife Dody, who was with him Sept. 17th, he smiled and described a scene he’d witnessed as a boy with a big old tree stump that a powerful tractor couldn’t pull out of the ground. Then a farmer who was training two draft horses, one a gelding and one a mare, harnessed them up and threw a heavy chain around the stump. “They strained so hard they nearly fell over frontward, but the male and female horse worked together and the stump started to move, and then came tumbling out.” The congressman laughed and said, “That male and female pulled together, worked together. It took many years from then but we are finally starting to see women receive equal pay for equal work.” Dody led laughter that rippled through the audience.
There is a certain comfort level you note between speaker and audience when Congressman Boswell makes one of his frequent visits to Graceland and Lamoni. He still farms just a few miles down the road. There is a lot of history between this man and this university. It was especially poignant to ‘visit with him’ Sept. 17th within the intimate confines of Carol Hall.
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