Can you believe it is that time again! I know my friends, the students, don’t even want to be reminded... and especially the teachers cannot believe it is time for school to begin in just a couple of weeks.
During this summer I have enjoyed reading a number of books while my family and I were on vacation. One of them contained the following story. Thomas Jefferson was born some 260 years ago – April 13, 1743. He was to become one of the most amazing men of his time. He lived until he was 83, and died, rather fittingly, on July 4, 1826, fifty years to the day after the Declaration of Independence was adopted. In a striking coincidence, another great American and friend of Thomas Jefferson died that same day… John Adams, the man Jefferson succeeded as president of the United States.
Thomas Jefferson was a man of many skills. He was one of the most important politicians and leaders of his time. In Virginia, he was a member of a group of patriots that included Patrick Henry. When many colonists felt that England had no right to rule America, Jefferson joined them. The Continental Congress in the spring of 1776 appointed a committee to draw up a statement declaring their independence from the mother country. Jefferson was appointed to that committee. The other members asked him to do the writing. The document he wrote set forth the attitude of the supporters of the concept of a separate nation.
In the years following the writing of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson served in the Virginia legislature as governor of the state, minister to France, first secretary of state of the new nation , vice president, and two terms as president.
His public life does not, however, tell everything about him. He wrote the law that established religious freedom in the state of Virginia. He was an inventor. He had one of the largest libraries of his time, and he read Latin and Greek. As the owner of a large plantation, he was a student of agriculture. In the last years of his life, he was active in education. He planned the buildings of the University of Virginia, and the school was opened the year before his death.
With so many accomplishments, what do you suppose he wished to be remembered for the most? What did Jefferson see as his greatest accomplishment?
He wrote his own epitaph. On the simple stone over his grave, the deeds for which he wanted to be remembered are recorded. He did not mention any of the great offices he had held or national and international honors. He referred to only three things: The Declaration of Independence, the Virginia law that established religious freedom, and the University of Virginia. A man of many accomplishments, yet he picked out those three for his epitaph.
As I read of the life and accomplishments of this great statesmen, I saw lessons for us all. For those who think that they are elderly and that life has passed them by, remember that Jefferson accomplished some of his greatest deeds as a senior citizen; for the teacher, Jefferson was truly an instructor of both young people and adults; and for the student, look what one person can accomplish when they have the desire and dream.
I particularly like a phrase written by Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the atomic scientist, and think it has a good chance of becoming a permanent addition to human wisdom. Pleading for funds for exchange students between different countries, he wrote, “The best way to send an idea is to wrap it up in a person.”
Alfred Montapert said: “I have yet to read the life story of a truly great person, whether he or she be an artist, a poet, an inventor, a scientist, or what-have-you, who did not achieve success by long study and careful planning. Most of them, by years of hard work. That is the price of accomplishment.”
As we think of this year’s school opening, let us all recommit ourselves to take advantage of every opportunity in the school of life! The great accomplishments of life are “wrapped in a person.” As are the minor accomplishments, as well.
And fortunate, indeed, are the individuals who proceed to live with a sense of accomplishment and who can crown their life with a phrase like Jesus uttered; “I have accomplished the work which God gave me to do.” No finer epitaph can be desired.