The founding ideas of this university and the basis for its mission statement have roots in an old sermon that Temple founder Russell Conwell used to orate in his post as a minister in Philadelphia. The sermon, though delivered with a somewhat elitist tone, has a valuable moral that seems pertinent now more than ever for the university and its surrounding community.
The lecture tells the story of Al Hafed, an old Persian farmer who became discontent with his wealthy life after learning of diamonds and the enormous riches they command. He leaves his family and his farm behind in search of the diamonds, but exhausts all of his resources in his desperate pursuit and eventually kills himself. The story ends with Al Hafed’s successor discovering a field of diamonds in the garden brook of Al Hafed’s old farm, long after Al Hafed was already gone.
The moral of the story, which has come to be known as Conwell’s “Acre of Diamonds” speech, reminds us of the value of self-betterment. It teaches us that prosperity lies within.
Cast into a modern light, the “Acre of Diamonds” speech should serve as a reminder of the university’s role as an institution of higher learning in a city that continues to prove itself incapable of properly educating its children.
The Philadelphia School District is in a state of crisis. Hampered by rising pension costs and a drop in attendance, the district closed 23 schools in June to help fend off a $304 million budget shortfall. Almost 4,000 school district employees were given layoff notices. It took a last-ditch effort in mid-August to redirect $50 million to the schools just so the district could open on time. Other emergency funds raised allowed the district to hire back some music teachers and secretaries, while restoring fall sports programs.
The recent speech given by President Obama announcing a new college rating system offers an incentive for Temple to become part of the solution. Among other things, the new system would reward colleges for lowering the cost of tuition and admitting a high percentage of low-income students.
Out of the incoming class of 2017, it is estimated that 738 out of roughly 4,300 are from Philadelphia. Specific numbers about the Philadelphia School District were unavailable.
While Temple can’t fix the city’s broken public schools, it can do more to lower costs to offer opportunity to those who somehow emerge from the system. Temple happily labels itself as the “diversity university,” and continues to actively pursue international students, but it’s a disservice to the university’s mission to turn its back on the youth in our own city.
There is an acre of diamonds in Philadelphia; it’s the children whose faces you might have seen on the news recently. They’re being forced to move to different schools, are afraid of getting beat up in unmonitored hallways and graduate from high school at a rate 15 percent below the state average.
President Obama’s new plan for making college more affordable is welcome news, but before the university begins scrambling to juice its numbers, it should first consider digging through the unplowed garden in its backyard.
Like Conwell said in his speech: “The ‘Acres of Diamonds’ which I have mentioned through so many years are to be found in this city, and you are to find them. Many have found them. And what man has done, man can do.”