Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 36 Growth

I WANT to impress upon you this evening the importance of continued growth. I very much, wish that each one of you might imagine, this evening, your father and your mother to be looking at you and examining into every act of your life while here, I wish that you might feel, as it were, their very heart throbs. I wish that you might realize, perhaps as you have never realized before, how anxious they are that you should succeed here. I wish that you could know how many prayers they send up, day after day, that your school life may be more and more successful as one day succeeds another, that you may grow to be successful, studious, strong men and women, who will reflect credit upon yourselves and honor upon your families.

Each one of you must have had some thoughts about those who are anxious about you; some thought for those persons whose hearts are very often bowed down in anxiety because they fear your school life here will not be successful. Not only for your own sake, but for the sake of those who are near and dear to you, those who have done more for you than anybody else, I want you to make up your minds that this year is going to be the best one of your liven.

I want you to resolve that you are going to put into this year the hardest and the most earnest work that you have ever done in your life, to resolve that this is going to be the greatest, the most courageous and the most sinless year of life that you have ever lived; I want you to make up your minds to do this; to decide that you are going to continually grow-and grow more tomorrow than to-day. There are but two directions in this life in which you can grow; backward or forward. You can grow stronger, or you can grow weaker; you can grow greater, or smaller; but it will be impossible for you to stand still.

Now in regard to your studies- your lessons, I want you to make up your minds that you are going to be more and more thorough in your lessons each day you remain here; that you are going to so disci-pline yourselves that each morning will find you in the recitation rooms with your lessons more thoroughly and more conscientiously prepared for the day's work than they were for the work of the day before. I want you to make up your minds that you are going to be more nearly perfect, are going to put more manly and womanly strength into the preparation of your lessons each day, that you may be more useful. Then you will find yourselves wanting to grow, I hope; will find yourselves learning the dignity of labor, and that no class of people can get up and stay up, can be strong and useful and respected, until they learn that there is no disgrace in any form of labor.

I hope you are learning that labor with the hand, in any form whatever, is not disgraceful. I hope that you are learning, day by day, that all kinds of labor-whether with the mind or with the hand-are honorable, and that people only disgrace themselves by being and keeping in idleness.

I want you to go forward by thoroughness in your work; by being more conscientious in your work; by loving your work more to-day than you did yesterday. If you are not growing in these respects-that is, if you are not going forward-you are going backward, and are not answering the purpose for which this institution was established, are not answering the purpose for which your parents sent you here.

I want to emphasize the fact that we want you to grow in the direction of character-to grow stronger each day in the matter of char-acter. When I say character, here, I mean to use the word in its broad-est sense. The institution wants to find you growing more polite to your fellows every day, as you come in contact with them, whether it be in the class-room, in the shop, in the field, in the dining-room, or in your bedroom. No matter where you are, I want you to find your-selves growing more polite and gentlemanly. Notice I do not say merely that I want your teachers-those who are over you-to find you growing more polite; I want you to find yourselves so. If you are not doing this, you are going backward; you are going in the wrong direc-tion.

I want to find you each day more thoughtful of others, and less selfish. I want you to be more conscientious in your thoughts and in your work, and with regard to' your duty toward others. This is growing in the right direction; not doing this is growing in the wrong direction. Nor do I want you to feel that you are to strive for this spirit of growth for this one year alone, or for the time that you are here. I hope that you will continue to grow in the forward direction.

Then, and this is more important still, we want you to take this habit of growth-this disposition to grow in the right direction-out with you from the school, and scatter it as an influence for good wher-ever you go. We want you to take it into your schools; for many of you are going to become teachers. We want you not only to begin it when you begin teaching in a humble way, but we want to see you grow and improve in it every year. We want to see you make your school-houses more attractive; to see you make everything in connection with your schools and your teaching better and stronger; to see you make a school more useful every year that you remain as its teacher.

Then, too, when you go out and get employment-no matter of what kind it may be-we want to see you grow better in that employ-ment; we want to see you advance in ability, commanding always a larger salary, advancing in value to those who employ you. We want to see you grow in reputation for being honest, conscientious, in-telligent, hard-working; no matter in what capacity you are employed.

Some of you are going out to establish homes and settle down in home life. We want to see you grow in that direction. Nothing is so disheartening-there is nothing so discouraging as to see a man or woman settle down in a home, and then not to see that home grow more beautiful, inside and outside;-to see it, instead of this, each year grow dingy and dirty, because it each year receives less and less atten-tion.

We want Tuskegee students to go out from here and establish homes that will be models in every respect for those about them homes that will show that the lives of the persons who have estab-lished them are models for the lives of those who live about them. If you do this, your lives are going -to be a constant going forward for, I repeat, your lives are going to be one thing or the other, continu-ally going backward or continually going forward.