Not Unmindful of the Future, But Not Dwelling on the Past
By Wyn Ponder As an undergraduate student, I have never really thought much about the significance of the Confederate flags in Lee Chapel until recently. Even when giving tours to prospective students, I never mentioned the flags. They were just there, another one of the many historic relics that W&L had on its even more historic campus. It would seem that a school like W&L, filled with some of the brightest students in the country, could acknowledge and appreciate these artifacts for their historic value, rather than see them as a racist innuendo or think that the school upholds the values the flags once stood for. It makes me proud to say General Lee is buried on my campus. That in itself is incredible, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with what he was fighting for. It’s just another outstanding piece of history that makes our campus so unique.
According to the survey sent out by The Spectator, students and alumni agree that when the members of the Committee brought their grievances to a national audience, they forced President Ruscio’s hand, but he handled the situation appropriately. He achieved a happy medium. Ruscio should not succumb to every pressure or agree to every request that people ask of him, or he would be an unqualified president. He cannot change the history of our school, nor the values that the past has taught us.
Most importantly, Ruscio maintained that Lee was an honorable man, even though he owned slaves. "I personally take pride in his significant accomplishments here and will not apologize for the crucial role he played in shaping this institution…Lee was an imperfect individual living in imperfect times." Even still, he apologized for W&L’s involvement in slavery, saying that the University will continue to study our past so we can learn from our mistakes and move on. This situation brings W&L’s motto, “Not Unmindful of the Future,” into question. If we are constantly apologizing for mistakes of past generations, we will never be able to truly move forward and focus on the future and the possibilities that it holds.
The past holds significance for everyone, especially at W&L where we cherish tradition, but the past is just that: the past. Fortunately, certain chapters in our history, specifically our involvement in slavery, are over, never to be repeated. As a society, we need to learn to focus less on the things that we cannot change, and more on doing the right thing in the future. As General Lee said, “the gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past.”