An Open Letter to NIU:
One of the few positive aspects of otherwise sad partings is that they provide a rare moment during which we often recollect and thank those to whom we are indebted.
As some of you already know, on July 1, 2011, I will leave Northern Illinois University (NIU) after 24 years. The NIU community has been wonderful to me and my family and I am sincerely grateful.
During my time at NIU, I have worked for a number of dedicated and selfless men and women. I have worked with dozens of friendly and supportive colleagues. I have been assisted by hundreds of capable and dedicated members of our staff. I have been privileged to teach thousands of bright and industrious students.
Together we have suffered tragedy and relished triumph. Together we have grown in prosperity and survived scarcity. And for the last two years I have had the singular pleasure of assisting the best NIU has to offer, at the University Honors Program. I can scarcely imagine a more enjoyable post. I have no complaints and few regrets.
Why then would I ever “want to” leave NIU? In short, I don’t. I have been happy and content here.
But if there is a final lesson I would offer my students, it is that one shouldn’t live life to pursue one’s own happiness. Although the Declaration of Independence famously promises us the right to pursue our own happiness, as Pope John Paul II understood “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
As a lifelong Catholic, I am deeply committed to Jesus Christ and his teachings as understood by my Church. This is not to suggest that I have been a model Christian, rather it is my many failings that have led me to strive more earnestly to serve the beliefs I hold dear.
For me, Franciscan University of Steubenville offers this opportunity. It is a small university that has been at the center of a great Catholic renewal in America. It is passionately committed to becoming what the Catholic Church calls its universities to be. In sum, I am persuaded that serving Franciscan University is what I “ought” to do.
That said, long after I have left NIU, I will continue to honor and respect the great and selfless service my many friends at NIU perform. But to all my students, I would encourage you to use your precious time here to discern what it is you “ought” to do with your lives.
NIU will continue to offer a fine environment to help you ask and answer life’s great questions. Stop here to ponder them. What took me 50 years, you can do in four … no, not five or six years … four! Then, seek not your own happiness, but travel daily where you “ought.” Ironically, those who pursue what they “ought” rather than what they want may yet find greater happiness.
With prayer and gratitude,
Daniel R. Kempton, Director
University Honors Program
Professor, Department of Political Science
This letter originally appeared in the Feb. 16, 2011, issue of the Northern Star. It is reprinted here with the author’s permission.