Doesn’t it seem that this holiday in particular is the most neglected ? What traditions do we have for this day except for sales in every store. Do we all agree that this was hardly it’s purpose? That seems a bit of a shame considering how many good presidents we’ve had. For Presidents Day I thought I’d put up a long forgotten speech by Herbert Hoover who was our 31st President. This issue is very close to my heart and is often my raison d’etre because the most important aspect of our professional lives is contingent on the pursuit and achievement of excellence:
In my opinion we are in danger of developing a cult of the common man, which means a cult of mediocrity. But there is at least one hopeful sign: I have never been able to find out just who this Common Man is. In fact, most Americans- especially women- will get mad and fight if you call them common.
This is hopeful because it shows that most people are holding fast to an essential fact in American life. We believe in equal opportunity for all, but we know that this includes the opportunity to rise to leadership. In other words- to be uncommon.
Let us remember that the great human advances have not been brought about by mediocre men and women. They were brought about by distinctly uncommon people with vital sparks of leadership. Many great leaders were of humble origin but that alone was not their greatness.
It is a curious fact that when you get sick you want an uncommon doctor; if your car breaks down you want an uncommonly good mechanic; when we get into war we want dreadfully an uncommon admiral and an uncommon general.
I have never met a mother and father who did not want their children to grow up to be uncommon men and women. May it always be so. For the future of America rests not in mediocrity but in the constant renewal of leadership in every phase of our national life.
This article first appeared in THIS WEEK in February of 1949.