Mayor Riley’s Speech at the Grand Opening Of South Carolina Aquarium
May 29, 2000
Mayor Joseph P. Riley,
As I begin these remarks, I ask for two personal indulgences. First, I want to thank my family for their support, wise counsel and encouragement. They feel the slings and arrows that these complicated and thus controversial projects cause, they help make this and other dreams a reality. Second, I wish my parents ware here, not just for the personal celebration, we were fortunate to have so many. Rather, because they were of a generation born to a region of modest, if not bleak, prospects, only a half century after the Civil War. They shared the ambition that this City and State could and should excel, that mediocrity was not to be tolerated or admired. They, more than most, understood the significance of working hard to create institutions in their City and State that rank among the world’s best. But I am pleased that representing them and their generation is my dear mother-in-law, Molly deLoach from Camden, and I ask that she stand and be recognized.
Many civilizations ago, when the people of a town sought to build something grand, usually their cathedral, all the citizens worked on its construction. Their collective work took not years, but generations, lifetimes. And when their great work was finally finished, those surviving would join together, as we do here today, to celebrate the wonder of their difficult and common achievement.
In modern times, great and ambitious dreams still can be achieved on1y through the sacrifice and work of the townspeople, but in different ways. Skilled technicians performed the complicated construction tasks for this Aquarium, but each of you here, and so many others, built this building as well. You built it with your support of bond referendums to tax yourselves, so as to be able to give this gift. You built it with your generous personal donations. You built it with you ideas and your shared vision. You built it when you faced down the "we don’t need a fish tank" naysayers. You built it with your ambition to excel. You built it by not quitting when obstacle after obstacle blocked our path and weaker people would have abandoned the effort. You built it with your passion that this aquarium could help better educate and inspire our children. You built it when you dared to dream of this glorious day. You built it with your love, you built it with your heart, you built it with your soul. You built it in so many ways.
You built it just as if in earlier times you had walked to the stone quarry, chiseled a block of granite, hauled it to the site, carried it up the creaking scaffold, strained with all your might, lifted it into place, and then walked back to the quarry to do that again and again and again.
In building, what have you built, you wonderful people? Ah, you too have built a great cathedral. Not a building of organized prayer, but a building that causes that causes the spirit to soar, a building that enthralls all who enter with the warders of creation. In responding to my request that he join our Aquarium Board years ago, Pat Conroy wrote, in accepting, that he could not watch the beautiful fish in the kelp tack at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and not be stirred by the power of God.
Your ambition was powerful that a small city in a small state would build one of the great aquariums in the world. But, of course, our ambitions should never be small when we are dreaming for our people.
You knew that a great aquarium is a most powerful environmental and educational resource that can open minds of the wonder and beauty of the waters and all the majestic animals and planets that inhabit them.
You built an aquarium that is a breakthrough, state-of-the-art science museum, which does things no aquarium has done before. No aquarium has ever opened its doors with the super educate curriculum that we have developed for the children of our state. No aquarium has ever devoted its exhibit opportunity to one precise landmass – ours, the Southeastern Appalachian Watershed – from the Mountains to the Sea. No other aquarium has fresh air exhibits like our mountain forest aviary that showcases the Esetatoe and Jocassee Gorges, their fish, birds, flowers, trees and more. Our saltwater marsh aviary, a cross-section of the creeks behind Dewees and Daufuskie, Pritchards, and Pawleys Islands, presents more powerfully than any exhibit in the world the beauty, the power and the importance of our saltwater marsh system. No aquarium in the world has our deep ocean tank, a beautiful, deep, dark and moving cross-section of the waters 40 miles off our shore. No aquarium has its state’s coastline, its intersecting rivers and islands, so beautifully and artistically created in the floor – a place to walk, a place to reminisce, a place to learn. No other aquarium showcases its region’s swamps and rivers, reservoirs and estuaries like what you have built for the people of our state. And no other aquarium or museum anywhere in the world, no public building, offers and frames the views of a beautiful harbor the way this building does: from the Riverside Terrace, from the decks and windows, this gorgeous harbor, still in the morning, sparkling at midday, serene at night. At one time, bustling with huge ocean-going ships you can almost touch, at others, placid as s quiet lake. Every moment different, no experience the same. Those views and experiences will be photographs forever etched in the minds of all who visit.
And, this marvelous new public realm, this park, adjacent parks, the riverway, the docks and more – no aquarium in the world has a public zone like this, with its intimate and access to the harbor, And now this, all of this, belongs to each and every citizen of our community ad state forever.
You have given our children a priceless gift. Children will enter, but future scientists, doctors and biologists will have. Light bulbs will go off as their minds discover the wonders of the marsh, the swamp, the rivers, creeks, the oceans and more. Math and science will have new meaning and interest. And the child form an at-risk environment of limited horizons will enter the building and feel the beauty and power of this, their aquarium, and they will never be the same. Internalized to them, will be the experience that says, "I am somebody great and my future has no bounds." When we give a great civic building of profound worth and purpose to our children, we have enhanced their citizenship forever, their lives have grater meaning, and their future has more promise.
And when we give a building and place of great beauty to each citizen, we allow their hearts to sing and sing more fully.
This building will make each of us environmentalist, or if already, then more so. No one will leave with out a new set of environmental goosebumps, a greater passion to better care for our waters and on land and to treat the earth gently because we did not inherit it from our parents- we hold it in trust for our grandchildren.
In a few moments, the South Carolina Aquarium will open and the gift of your work and sacrifice will be given to all the citizens of our state and all who visit, the special and glorious gift by you wonderful people. It will be given to all who enter today, and all who come tomorrow and all of tomorrow’s tomorrows. Your precious gift each time, to each child, to each person, will lift their spirit and light their minds, will warm their hearts and touch their souls. And they will never be the same again.