There is no sure way to know whether a university convocation, groundbreaking ceremony or other similar event is going to be an interesting, exciting and inspirational event or a dud.
Consequently, audience numbers at such events vary, and too many individuals miss out on a truly memorable gathering. Such was the case Friday afternoon at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University.
Regardless of their political leanings, most people in the Lied Center audience would agree the program touched all the bases. There was a strong patriotic theme, recognition of the Sept. 11 tragedies in New York City and Washington, D.C., and top-flight remarks by KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway, Gov. Bill Graves and Polly Bales, a long-time KU benefactor and friend of Dole's from Logan.
Weather conditions forced the event to be moved inside the Lied Center, several hundred yards east of where the institute will be located. The traditional groundbreaking with construction shovels and hard hats was held on-stage with a box of loose soil. This didn't diminish the specialness of the program as Richard Norton Smith, recently named director of the Dole Institute, offered extremely interesting remarks about Dole, the role and potential of the institute and the type of programming and discussions he intends to bring to KU and Lawrence.
Smith is recognized as one of this country's outstanding scholars on U.S. presidents, and he presented an exciting picture of the institute's role. "Besides housing all of the senator's papers, a priceless collection in their own right," he said, "we will undertake a massive oral history project to document the political record of Kansas and America during the second half of the 20th century.
"And that's just the beginning," he continued. "Politics is about nothing if not ideas. In the years to come, the Dole Institute will showcase some of the liveliest thinkers in the land through nationally televised conferences, lectures, seminars, debates and other innovative programs. Imagine a Colin Powell or Joe Lieberman delivering an annual Dole Lecture. Imagine a presidential lecture series bringing David McCullough, Michael Beschloss and Doris Kearns Goodwin to Lawrence next fall.
"As a public policy center, we will rise or fall on the degree of public participation. Neither Senator Dole, Chancellor Hemenway nor the board of regents would have it any other way. Public service is our mantra just as it has been Senator Dole's lifelong mission."
It is clear Smith brings enthusiasm and high goals for the institute, and it is bound to become a major player in the overall excellence of the university.
As might be expected, Dole, the former Kansas senator and presidential candidate, had a warm, welcoming audience. Even though there was nothing of a partisan political nature in his remarks, he told several jokes relative to his unsuccessful bid for the presidency. Many in the audience could not help but think and comment after the program about what might have been and how his manner, personal standards and behavior were in such contrast to those of his opponent, Bill Clinton.
Dole expressed his appreciation for those who have provided funding and support for the institute, and he downplayed Smith's reference to Dole being a part of the Class of 1945, which some have labeled America's "greatest generation." Smith was referring to those who fought in World War II during which Dole was seriously injured in Italy.
Dole said he is careful in his use of the label "hero" because he believes people such as the New York City firefighters and police officers, nurses, doctors and volunteers who served after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack are the true heroes and patriots in today's society, not someone who can dunk a basketball or throw a touchdown pass.
He talked about those who serve in government and elective office, the terrorist attacks, the importance he places on his Kansas roots, his time as a KU student and how he came to Lawrence with a $300 loan, and how proud he is to be a Kansan.
Dole displayed his wit and his love of the country. Near the end of his remarks he was visibly emotional, and, as he stepped away from the speaker's rostrum, he received a sustained standing ovation.
It was the type of speech parents in the audience wished their children could have heard. Some partisan Democrats might find it difficult to believe, but Dole's presentation was inspirational, and it is unfortunate there were not more young people present.
Friday's groundbreaking ceremony did, indeed, touch all bases. And if Smith's projections are true, this groundbreaking will mark the beginning of a new chapter of academic excellence and public service at KU.