2011 Albert Schweitzer Award of Excellence
Good morning, my friends, and welcome to Chapman University for the academic year 2011-12. As you have noticed, our campus is a campus of busts in honor of a variety of distinguished people, but I am pleased and proud to point out, as I do whenever I am given the chance, that the biggest and baddest bust, poised in a prominent fashion in front of Argyros Forum, is that of Albert Schweitzer, the philosopher, theologian, musician, medical doctor, and Nobel Peace Prize winner who is something of a guiding ethical spirit for our university.
Schweitzer advocated an ethic of reverence for life – respect for life, yes, but beyond that reverence for life, all of life – human, animal, and plant. Schweitzer was convinced that all of life is sacred, and it should be fostered and encouraged in its biological, physical, psychological, social, and spiritual dimensions. We all will to live, Schweitzer noted, we all want to live in every sense of the word. Well, Schweitzer declared, ethics consists in experiencing the compulsion – the commitment – to show to all those people and other creatures who have a will to live the same reverence we have for our own will and aspiration to live. Schweitzer put it very simply: "It is bad to destroy or obstruct life. It is good to maintain life and encourage it.’
Albert Schweitzer was fully aware that the application of reverence for life in our lives is complex and requires courage and careful reflection, but his ethic is powerful and attractive. In our world, in which there is so much irreverence for life, we could use much more reverence for life. And if any of you are currently shopping around for an ethic to live by, you might wish to consider reverence for life.
The organization that is the recipient of the 2011 Albert Schweitzer Award of Excellence takes seriously the value of life and the quality of life. For over 30 years in over 40 countries, Whirlwind Wheelchair International has been dedicated to providing low cost, high quality wheelchairs for people with disabilities who are in need of aid in moving from place to place. As they write in their mission statement, Whirlwind works with wheelchair riders all around the world to design and build durable and highly functional wheelchairs that perform well on rough and uneven terrain and are manufactured in factories that make a significant contribution to local economic development. It has been estimated that 1 out of every 300 people – some 20 million people in the developing world – are in need of a wheelchair. Whirlwind Wheelchair seeks to address this overwhelming need by providing as many people as possible with the wheelchairs they need. In doing so, Whirlwind is offering some of the greatest gifts that can be given: mobility, dignity, and independence.
Ralf Hotchkiss, a founder of Whirlwind, whose personal story is very inspiring and who is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, is not here today. At this time he is where he should be: in Nicaragua, carrying on the work of Whirlwind Wheelchair there. Whirlwind is represented on the stage today by Keoke King, Marketing Director of Whirlwind, and Morgan Duffy, a Stanford student who works as an intern at Whirlwind. We also wish to acknowledge and thank Deborah and Larry Bridges for their generous support of the Schweitzer Award.
Keoke and Morgan, we are pleased and honored to offer Whirlwind Wheelchair International the Albert Schweitzer Award of Excellence for 2011. Your example encourages me, and I trust all of us at Chapman, to work more aggressively toward making our campus fully accessible as soon as possible. We wish you, in turn, all the best in your continued efforts to contribute to the quality of life of our brothers and sisters around the world.
Dr. Marvin Meyer, Director, Chapman University Albert Schweitzer Institute