During the early decades of the 20th century, a literary movement emerged which is today known as Modernism. One of this movements most successful and vocal members was the poet, Ezra Pound. Besides writing some of its most memorable poems, it was he that gave the movement its motto, “Make it new!” For Pound and other Modernists, this slogan came to encapsulate the artists role as innovator in the face of a constantly, and drastically changing world. The prospect of a dynamic world, a world of change was not, however, a concept exclusive to the early 20th century. Indeed, the history of this great land is the history of men and women of courage, creativity, and ingenuity. If not for the creative sensibility and willing sacrifice of our nation’s early citizens, the coast might never have been joined by railroad, the mighty fields of the Midwest never tamed by the plow, and the Constitution never written by our forefathers. The phrase, “Make it new!” rings just as true for the works of Jefferson and Madison as it did for those of Pound and Eliot. And, the idea continues to find meaning to this day. A quick drive through Atlanta or even Athens will testify to the bustle and growth that has come to characterize American life. Taller buildings, fast food and faster cars have become symbols of our progress. But just as the Constitution could not have been written without the Magna Carta, and Eliot’s Wasteland would not have been written without Dante’s Inferno, today’s achievements would be impossible without the achievements of those who came before. And indeed today, we are here to celebrate a great achievement. Because of the tireless effort and devotion of a small group of individuals, one of the University of Georgia’s oldest buildings has been returned to its former glory.
It was no small amount of labor that went into the renovation of Phi Kappa Hall and it was no small expense that made the labor possible. Some might ask themselves was this really prudent. Could not the money and time spent have been used to create a new building–something bigger, with more computer stations, and more windows? Such a question ignores this day’s real significance. For, just as the Constitution is more than a mere document of law, Phi Kappa Hall is more than just a building – it is, in fact, a symbol. But a symbol of what? It is true that the Hall is in better shape today than it has been in many years, however, if not for the dedication and belief of a group of young men more than 170 years ago, this Hall would not exist. Those young men of the 1820’s and 30’s who called themselves Phi Kappans saw to it that their society would have something tangible, a place they could call home. This building was to be more than just a roof and four walls, simple protection from the elements; instead, it would be a beacon of debate, learning, and friendship, on the University of Georgia’s campus. For those amongst the student body who found a desire within themselves to improve, both mentally and morally, as speakers and as human beings, Phi Kappa Hall would always be their home. One can see in the University of Georgia’s efforts to restore this historic landmark, a desire to keep these ideals alive. One can see in the continuing presence and fervor of Phi Kappa’s membership a similar zeal for the principles and beliefs which she represents. It is true that today Phi Kappa Hall is restored but so to is her society. Through the effort and determination of her members much of the society’s regalia is again historically accurate – her original offices, seal, badges, and symbol have all been returned to use. And no less, the spirit of camaraderie and competition which once made this society so great is again alive at the University of Georgia.
Certainly, much has changed over the past 170 years, both in Phi Kappa and at the University. Many of the nation’s most inspired and astute young men and women have walked these grounds and have entered this Hall, only to leave their indelible mark. And still, much has remained unchanged. So, though the length and breadth of days moves us ever farther from our hallowed past, we must never forget. And, while paying constant heed to the lessons we have learned, we must not be confined. It is forever our job to remake the world and indeed, “Make it new!”