The following is taken from Pitt student Marlo Safi’s remarks at ISI’s 2017 Dinner for Western Civilization, on accepting the Richard and Helen DeVos Freedom Center Leadership Award.
Thank you all so much. I am profoundly humbled and grateful not only to have been invited to come to this dinner tonight but also to be deemed deserving of the Richard and Helen DeVos Freedom Center Leadership Award. I could gush for an eternity about the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the impression their staff, donors, and students have made on me, but I will do my best to condense my elation in these words for you all tonight.
I would like to first thank the Lord for blessing me with two wonderful parents, who unfortunately could not join us tonight. While I’ve always been in awe of my parents’ perseverance and unrelenting dedication to achieving the American Dream for themselves and their children, a recent experience has allowed me to appreciate both their sacrifices and the exceptionalism of our country.
Two weeks ago, I came back to the States from a ten-day trip to Syria, where I visited my family for the first time in almost a decade. I am incredibly proud of my heritage, but the desolation of the country much of my family calls home struck me as soon as I crossed the Syrian-Lebanese border into Syria. The beautiful, rolling valleys speckled with olive trees that I remembered from my childhood were overwhelmed by the abject poverty, the apparent disorganization of the Syrian army guarding each town, and the dilapidation of homes and stores. Syria had become a third-world country due to the civil war that has ravaged her land and all my memories of her grace. Despite all the sights that reminded me that a war was still ongoing, the sight that sunk my heart the most was that of a Syrian grade school.
I’m not exaggerating when I describe the school as being a block of cement resembling a high-security prison. There were no seasonal window clings, no playground, no semblance of childhood whimsy or wonder. It pains me to imagine the quality of education these children are receiving, and the hope that many of them may lose as the war continues to cripple a nation already devoid of law and order.
While I left the grounds of that school perturbed, I am standing before you today as proud as I’ve ever been to be an American citizen, and as humbled as I’ve ever been before God for blessing me with the opportunity to be able to say this—because it’s nothing short of an absolute blessing. Our founding principles and our continued obedience to them are what allow us to prosper.
In a 1968 episode of William F. Buckley Jr.’s Firing Line, my favorite author, Jack Kerouac, discussed his faith and writing career with Buckley while drunk out of his wits, which was hardly unusual for him. Despite his slurred words, he said several things of substance, one quote of which has stuck with me. While describing to Buckley his identity as a Catholic, a patriot, and a Beatnik, he said that he believes in “order, tenderness, and piety.”
While I don’t consider Kerouac a conservative stalwart, I do believe these qualities are what have allowed for American eminence, and I wouldn’t have come to realize the consequence of these values if not for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. We need the law and order Barry Goldwater championed in his 1964 Republican National Convention acceptance speech. We need the tenderness expressed by fellow countrymen and countrywomen, who share a common pride. We need the piety that Richard Weaver delineates in his book Ideas Have Consequences: a piety that “comes to us as a warning voice that we must think as mortals, that it is not for us either to know all or to control all.”
With that being said, I am very, very far from knowing it all, and I highly doubt I’ll ever come close. But in the meantime, I am so grateful that the Richard and Helen DeVos Freedom Center and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute thought I knew enough to be here tonight, among the brilliant minds that fill this room.
Thank you once more, and God bless you all and God bless America.
Marlo Safi is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh and a former ISI Collegiate Network–sponsored intern at Campus Reform.