To the Class of 1991

Across the country this spring, commencement speakers have offered advice and encouragement to new grads

In an address to the graduates of the College of William and Mary, University of Chicago president Hanna Holborn Gray admitted with good humor that ``I always like to think that the commencement speech is the 18-and-a-half minute gap on the commencement tape. ... I remember not a word spoken at my own commencement.'' Many of this year's graduates, caught up in the excitement of the day, may not recall the words of wisdom and congratulation their speakers offered. But the commencement speeches, ref lecting the views and news of the year, present a wide array of opinions and advice to the Class of 1991, and often speak to a larger audience as well. A sampling follows:

Madeleine L'Engle, author, at Wellesley College (Mass.):

In Greek mythology the intellect is masculine, Apollo driving the chariot of the sun across the sky, whereas wisdom is feminine, Sophia, or better, Hagia Sophia, holy wisdom. It is quite possible to be intellectual without any wisdom whatsoever, and this is always disastrous. And wisdom without intellect can be too otherworldly to be effective. It is when the two work together that true maturity can be realized. It is when the two work together that our wonderful minds can turn us toward truth. In tellect alone wants facts, provable facts; intellect working with wisdom can understand that truth goes far beyond and transcends facts....

Now, when I am talking about male and female I am not talking about men vs. women, because we all have a marvelous combination of male and female within us, and part of maturing is learning to balance these two components so that they are the most fertile. It is only then that we are able to make creative choices and to understand that we do have choices....

We can balance the male and female within us like an acrobat in the circus, and that balancing act is one of the most important choices open to us. We can dare to enter the vulnerable intimacy of friendship and love. Some of you will choose the underrated job of homemaker, of wife and mother. Some of you will go single-mindedly after a career. Some of you, like me, will make the difficult choice of choosing both; but then, as I used to tell my children, nothing that's easy is rea lly worth very much, and just because it's difficult is no reason not to try.

Frederick Coolidge Crawford, 100-year-old retired industrialist, Denison University (Ohio):

There are in the world fixed values, those great values of character - integrity, loyalty, compassion, kindness. Those have never changed. And no matter where the scientist takes us; no matter if there's boom or depression those are as fixed as the stars. Now those qualities form a compass which guided our forefathers when they founded this beautiful country. They can be a compass for us today. ...

Now you fine young people are starting out on an unknown journey into the future. I say unknown because the changes coming are going to be twice those that I've experienced in the past. And as you travel along you will come to a turn in the road, a decision must be made. Now this is what I want you to remember when the decision comes ... that there's a wonderful compass, and then I want you to match that compass to your decision. Does my decision ... fit with my compass of integrity? of love? of loyalty ? of compassion?

Sandra Day O'Connor, associate justice, United States Supreme Court, Widener University (Pa.):

As students today, your challenges will come not so much in breaking new paths as your mothers and grandmothers and I have done, but in deciding which to choose among the many paths now open to you and in knowing how you should travel along them. Women today live longer, work more, and have more opportunities to influence the direction of society than ever before in our country. Both women and men are the recipients of these changes. It's not enough for you to be passive beneficiaries of the se changes.

However, to illustrate, let me tell you a brief story about a building renovation. There is a building at the University of Boston, two stories high that housed a research center for computer scientists. As the field of computer science grew, so too did the need for space in the building. ... The only place to go was up and the university decided to build additional stories above. ... A few weeks after the construction of the third floor ... had started, an engineering professor looked out his window.... He ... saw what was being attempted. He realized it wasn't going to work. If the third story was added it would be so heavy the building would cave in. So he went next door, found the project engineer, and had a conference. ... The solution they hit upon was simple. They built the third floor five feet wider on all sides and put large pillars going straight down from the third floor to the ground to carry the weight. Now the result looked a bit unusual, but the building is sturdy and on a firm foundation.

As larger numbers of women entered the work force and as our population grows more diverse, racially and ethnically, and as all of these people occupy positions in politics, business, and in the professions, then like that University in Boston, we have to make structural and innovative changes in how our families are managed, how jobs are designed, how education systems are designed, and in our cultural and institutional attitudes toward women and minorities. We have to help build the new pi llars which will support our families, our jobs, and our country in the future. We will have to improvise solutions at times; they don't have to be elegant as long as they work. This is the task that this generation of graduates will have to perform.

Oscar Arias S'anchez, former president of Costa Rica, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

Peace is the product of mutual respect in all its senses: respect for human life, respect for the rights of other countries, respect for other national identities. We will not attain peace as long as there are nations that use their power and influence to provoke the cultural subjugation of others....

Young people of America, peace is not the product of a universal culture, but the result of harmonious interaction, an interaction that takes place according to common principles and objectives. They are legal and moral standards, global objectives that are fostered and set forth in international cooperation. Let us clarify those principles and goals in order to agree on what they mean and what they command. We can do so without deception, without unrealistic assumptions, without nationalistic stereotyp es. We can do so while respecting the world's cultural diversity.

Robert H. Atwell, president of the American Council on Education, Buena Vista College (Iowa):

You have no right to call yourselves educated people if you leave this place and feel no further responsibility to keep abreast of events in the world from some perspective other than American military supremacy. We may dominate this world militarily, but we certainly do not dominate it economically and we never had a monopoly on international morality. ...

... Be a little humble. Do not feel so accomplished because today you are being awarded a baccalaureate degree or because some years from now you will receive a PhD, an MD, or a law degree. Do not confuse credentials with ability, or high position with virtue. No credential ever signified much more than persistence. Persistence is a virtue devoutly to be wished, but it should not be confused with being learned, being wise, or being capable of great accomplishments.

... Beware of all orthodoxies and avoid them like the plague. There must never be anything approaching ``politically correct thinking'' in this or any other self-respecting institution of higher learning. Do not let political party, church, corporation, or even family do your thinking for you.

Arthur Ashe, former professional tennis player and civil-rights activist, Ohio Wesleyan University (Ohio):

When I was a high school senior in 1961, ...the phrase ``affirmative action'' had not been coined yet.... In fact, the expectations of my generation of black Southern students in the segregation of the South were exactly the opposite of affirmative action.

We at the time thought discrimination was so pervasive, so deeply rooted, and so a part of the majority population's controlled cultural norms that the very idea that someone would give us a break, a cultural preference, would have been laughable. ... We were always told - it was hounded into us at every turn - that we had to be twice as good precisely because no one would do us any favors....

No, I'm afraid my generation, 1961, never even entertained such a notion as affirmative action, though I'm the first to admit today, 1991, 30 years later, that it is necessary. But I am not comfortable with it, because I would prefer human parity. In athletics, it is a maxim that every competitor starts from the same line and competes on a level playing field. But what would my ancestors think of me accepting a head start solely because I happen to be African-American? Somehow I believe they would firs t ask me if Frederick Douglas or Booker T. Washington or Richard Allen were standing here today, ``Well, did you really need it?'' ``How long would it last?'' ``Can't you run fast enough on your own?''

Freeman Dyson, nuclear physicist, Haverford College (Pa.):

A year and a half ago we lived through a season of revolutions. Who predicted them? Who even believed before they happened, that they were possible? ...

Since I'm a scientist, I'm a specialist in unpredictability. Science is even more unpredictable than history. Every important discovery in science is by definition, unpredictable. If it were predictable, it would not be an important discovery. The purpose of science is to create opportunities for unpredictable things to happen. When nature does something unexpected, we learn something about how nature works. It used to be said before the recent era of revolutionary discoveries that science was organized common sense. In the modern era it would be more accurate to say science is organized unpredictability.

So the great task before us now and before you as citizens of the world is to learn how to organize our societies in such a way that unpredictable things have a chance to happen. A number of revolutions in our thinking are long overdue. We need a collapse of nationalism and a rising commitment to international institutions. We need a collapse of greed and a commitment to decent treatment of the poor. We need a collapse of military rivalry and a commitment to a worldwide effort to preserve our planet as a fit home for mankind and other living creatures. The conventional wisdom says that none of these revolutions will happen. But we have seen in the last two years a number of revolutions that the conventional wisdom had declared impossible.

The overdue revolutions are unpredictable, but not impossible. It is your task, both in science and in society at large, to prove the conventional wisdom wrong and to make your unpredictable dreams come true.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, PBS broadcast journalist, Ithaca College (N.Y.):

What I want to share with you this morning is how the time I spent covering the war affected the way I came to view this country, and the young people who are its future....

I came close to tears listening to ... a story from a 19-year-old airman who had been packing to go to war precisely at the same time my 19-year-old son was packing to go to college.

What really got to me was that the young airman told me that he felt vulnerable and afraid of the unknown as it lay ahead of him in the vast, hot desert; but he also talked about his duty to his country with an earnestness that I hadn't heard since John F. Kennedy called on my generation to ``Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country.''

... Listening to these young men and women speak, I began to have a fantasy, and it formed something like this: that we lived in a country where every citizen - male, female, of every color and hue upon reaching a certain age would be required to perform, with adequate compensation, some service to the country - not necessarily armed service. Although that would be an option - I know that's not for everyone. But service to the country that could take many forms, using the broadest definition of service and national security. ...

My fantasy saw this call to service as a way to instill commitment to our nation's high ideals by requiring that our citizens start early on thinking beyond themselves and caring for others. In the process, fostering a kind of communication that does not exist among us today ... where everybody had a common objective and worked toward a common goal. That is the kind of communication that breeds understanding, empathy, and respect that is the enemy of ignorance, prejudice, and hostility. ...

In my fantasy, those young people would not be content to live their lives in isolation, however splendid or reassuring, but have the courage to confront the unknown, even when it is as close as the person sitting next to them, but who may as well be as far away as Iraq when it comes to human understanding.

Charles Osgood, CBS news correspondent, Trinity College (Conn.):

Welcome to the world. The journey that now commences will be an exciting and adventurous one for you. You will learn much, you will grow, and you will become. But in a larger sense, you already have everything you need. Armed with identity and purpose and determination, everything you need to know to set out on this journey, you already know. Everything you want, you already have. And everything you want to be, you already are. God bless you. I'll see you on the radio.

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