A Study in Courage and Tenacity
a week ago, a very special young man received a Furman diploma, and I
highlighted his remarkable story in my charge to the graduates.
October 30, 1997, Greg Mason, then a Furman freshman from Greenville,
was riding in a car with four other Furman students when a drunk driver
plowed into them.
The impact of the collision catapulted Greg
into the front windshield; he suffered massive facial trauma, an open
skull fracture, and third-degree burns. When a rescue team cut Greg from
the wreckage, he had no vital signs. Paramedics restored his breathing
and transported him to a hospital, where doctors told his parents, Pam
and Tim, that their only child was in a deep coma and probably would not
survive the night.
But Greg defied the odds. A few days after
the accident, he underwent extensive brain surgery to close his head
wounds. He finally emerged from the coma 30 days later.
accident, Greg has endured more than 20 surgical procedures and has had
to re-learn the most basic physical actions, from swallowing to
When Greg was released from the hospital in April 1998,
the Masons were advised to place him in a nursing home because of his
many medical needs. Doctors also told them that Greg's goal of returning
to Furman was unrealistic. Yet through intense physical therapy and
incredible tenacity, Greg made slow but steady progress. As he
demonstrated, hope is as inspiring as it is unreasonable.
years ago, Greg returned to classes at Furman. His mother was always by
his side. She transported him to each class, took notes for him,
recorded all of the lectures and helped mediate his conversations with
professors. Last Saturday night, Greg not only received a Furman
diploma; he graduated with honors and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.
the commencement ceremony, he honored us by another major
accomplishment. He walked for the first time in public. As he approached
the platform in his wheelchair, he signaled his mother to stop and
assist him. He then laboriously lifted himself out of the chair and took
several dramatic steps across the stage to receive his diploma. Ten
thousand people in Paladin Stadium witnessed a miracle.
their grace and perseverance, the Masons embody the invisible yet
redemptive reality of hope. They remind us how extraordinarily resilient
and tenacious the human spirit can be.
After all of the degrees
were awarded, I acknowledged an obvious point: the graduates had
attended college during one of the most turbulent and unstable periods
in world history. Like Greg Mason, I said, they have also had to adapt
to the unexpected, the unwanted and the unexplainable. Yet the example
of the Masons, I emphasized, should endow them with a sense of hope in the absence of stability, just as faith gives us confidence and courage in the absence of certainty.
assured the graduates that they are going to do great things, but I
added that they are also going to encounter accidents, setbacks,
failures and tragedies. How they respond to those unwanted situations, I
stressed, will define their character and shape the quality and
trajectory of their lives.
My wish for you is that you will
summon up the spiritual fellowship, mental toughness and creative
resilience that Furman has helped nurture in you. When difficulties
arise, don't lose heart; don't give in; don't despair. For as the old
gospel song assures us, God did not bring you this far, just to leave
Hope is our engine of possibility. We are saved by hope,
said Paul to the Romans. We glory in tribulations, for we know that
tribulation inspires patience and patience (fosters) experience and
experience (generates) hope.
Regardless of our defects or
weaknesses or limitations, God expects us to persevere: to nurture hope,
grit our teeth and trust Providence the rest.
I closed my
comments by inviting the graduates to join the poet Emily Dickinson in
seeking always to dwell in a sense of possibility and by asking that
they reside there with a sense of honor, a sense of humility, a sense
of humor and a sense of hope.
Just as Greg Mason has done.