Parting Words: Counsel for '92 Grads

WHEN this year's graduates entered college, the world was a different place. Major changes have occurred in the past four years.

The Berlin Wall that separated freedom from communism was destroyed. Democratic revolutions crossed Eastern Europe and dismantled the Soviet Union. Yet a suppressed uprising in China made it clear that communism was not dead everywhere. Drug kingpin Manuel Noriega was seized, and the lightning-speed Gulf war stopped an aggressive act in one of the world's richest oil regions.

More recently, recession has caused catastrophic job losses in top industries. Anita Hill's sexual-harassment complaints against Clarence Thomas and the rape trials of William Kennedy Smith and Mike Tyson brought women's issues to the fore, prompting many women to seek public office. While low unemployment and Ronald Reagan's popularity helped George Bush land in the White House in 1988, the president faces the possibility of a three-way race for a second term. Many members of the class of '92 accepted d iplomas amid rage and despair following the Los Angeles riots, and face an uncertain job market.

Commencement speakers noted a number of historic ironies, while offering traditional advice and calling for a new sense of community. Samples of graduation addresses follow. BE A REFORMER US Rep. Stephen Solarz (D) NY, Brandeis U., Waltham, Mass.

[W]hen I graduated from Brandeis 30 years ago, both the world and our country were very different from what they are today.

The threat of nuclear war and of a cataclysmic confrontation between the US and the USSR produced a blend of fear and fatalism that was strangely at odds with our hopes for the future....

If the realities that confronted us seemed uncertain and unsafe abroad, the more tranquil certainties of our domestic circumstances had resulted in a far more stable and secure situation at home....

When we went out at night, we didn't worry about being mugged....

When we hear the world "crack," we thought of the sound a hardball makes when hitting a bat, rather than a drug which can frazzle your brain and destroy your life.

Homelessness was something you read about in Calcutta rather than in the capital of our own country....

And when we graduated, our primary concern was not over whether we would get a job or be admitted to graduate school - either or both were considered a certainty...

[T]he cold war has ended, the Soviet empire has collapsed, the threat of nuclear war has diminished, the UN has emerged as an effective mechanism for the resolution of regional conflicts, and the winds of democracy ... are sweeping over the globe.

Yet ... the dream of Martin Luther King threatens to become the nightmare of Rodney King here at home....

Our inner cities have become little more than urban wastelands, harboring a resentful underclass with no stake in the present and no hope for the future.

Our schools produce students who, when they graduate, often cannot read or write at a level commensurate with a high school education.

And our national economy, once the envy of the world, not only is failing to produce jobs for the poor, but is increasingly unable to sustain high-wage jobs for the middle class....

If we could find the wherewithal to bail out the S&Ls, wage war in the Persian Gulf, establish a space station high in the heavens, and build a supercollider here on earth, then surely we can find the resources which are a necessary if not sufficient condition for real progress toward resolving the domestic difficulties....

Today, because of men and women like Nelson Mandela and Helen Suzman, the system of institutionalized racism in South Africa is being dismantled....

Today, because of men and women like Natan Sharansky and Yelena Bonner, the Leninist dictatorship known as the Soviet Union has been replaced by parliamentary democracies....

[S]ome of you will become teachers, inspiring the next generation of Americans.... or lawyers giving new meaning to the concept of due process, or scientists advancing the frontiers of human knowledge, or entrepreneurs creating jobs and generating growth in the American economy....

But even if you never run for office, or secure a position in government, you can still, as Robert Kennedy so eloquently said, send out a tiny ripple of hope, and in the process, help to write the history of your generation.... Adele Smith Simmons, president, The MacArthur Foundation, American U., Washington, D.C.

This is the power of grass-roots activity, of people organizing locally to find solutions and hold institutions accountable. We are seeing a real resurgence of this kind of organizing. But these groups have not yet pulled together to mean something greater than the sum of the parts....

We have a history of reformers pushing up from below at times when the nation has needed renewal. During the Progressive Era ... people challenged vested interests with significant success.... More recently, the civil-rights and antiwar movements also made real contributions to the vitality of American democracy.

The roots are in place today for another of these eras.... Many talented people are working locally.... I challenge you to join with them.... RESPECT EACH OTHER AND THE ENVIRONMENT Anita DeFrantz, former Olympic rower; president, Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, The College of Wooster, Ohio

We have to remember the lessons of the Olympic movement - that everyone can live together, that the Olympic village should not be just for the two weeks before and the two weeks of the Games. We have to remember that the Olympic Games work because people respect each other.... James Corbridge, chancellor, U. of Colorado, Boulder, Let us realize the fragility of the planet, and our obligations to it.

This involves, at the very least, the need for each one of us to think about respect for our environment.... And that respect must translate to action - every day, in every personal act....

Buckminster Fuller ... said: "The most important fact about spaceship Earth - an instruction book didn't come with it." He was right. So it is up to us to make the instruction book ... and then to follow it ... but considering the consequences of our every action is a good place to begin.... BUILD ANEW Steven Sample, president, U. of Southern Calif., L.A.

If your house went up in flames, would you restore it exactly as it was before? No. You would probably build a somewhat different house, one that was better suited to your current needs and circumstances, and that was more adaptable to future possibilities.... We have an opportunity to take all that is good about Los Angeles - the creative spirit, the optimism, the essential decency - and create a community in which our children and grandchildren will be able to live together in peace and mutual prosper ity. Gen. Colin Powell, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Fisk U., Nashville, Tenn.

The young black captain just back from Vietnam 30 years ago who couldn't get a hamburger at a Georgia restaurant unless he went to the back window has become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.... All of us have to remember the brave people who went before and upon whose backs we climbed.... Last week's scenes from Los Angeles and other cities tell us vividly that we still have a long way to go.... Too many African-Americans are trapped in a cycle where poverty, violence, drugs, bad housing, inadequat e education, lack of jobs, and loss of faith combine to create a sad human condition. A human condition that cannot be allowed to continue if this nation is to hold its rightful place in the world.... We must remember that America is a family. There may be differences and disputes in our family, but we must not allow [it] to be broken into warring factions.... We must all work together to pull our people, to pull all Americans, out of the violence, out of the dark and soul-damning world of drugs, out of the

turmoil of the inner cities. As we climbed on the backs of others, so must we allow our backs to be used for others to go even higher than we have. DEFEND FREE SPEECH AND WHAT'S RIGHT Michael Sovern, president, Columbia University, New York

We cannot expect that freedom of speech will be universally admired. But we do have a right to expect that here in America ... there should indeed be concern, there should be "special interest," there should be strong diplomatic action to defend those who are threatened because of what they have written or said.

We claim preeminence as the world's mightiest military power. But might is of value to democracy only in the service of right....

We must not capitulate to fear. If you are silent in the face of threats ... then someday you will leave to your children less of the legacy of liberty than was given to you. George Bush, US president, Southern Methodist U., Dallas

In the heat and chaos of the riots, a pastor named Bennie Newton saw a man being beaten to the ground. And despite the threats and the blows, Reverend Newton walked into the fray and draped his body over the bloody man until the beating stopped. "My heart was crying," said the pastor. He saved the man's life.

America is a nation of Bennie Newtons; and you'll find him in every city, in every town, in every union hall, boy's club, scout troop.... CHANGE YOUR THINKING Madeline Kunin, visiting scholar, Radcliffe College; former Vermont governor, Lesley College, Cambridge, Mass.

As the Statue of Liberty has been our symbol of hope, greeting our hungry, tired and poor, so the ashes of Los Angeles have become our national symbol of rejection.

I will never forget the picture of a young black child at the blackboard, the day school reopened, in California, drawing stick figures shooting at one another, with little black dots for bullets, and houses, with flames pouring out the windows. Our question is how can that little boy be like other girls and boys in America, and draw peaked roof houses surrounded with tulips, and stick figures, of a smiling Mommy and Daddy?...

We must join hands in promoting private investment, community self-help projects, public works programs, support for Head Start, job training and education....

When we watched the Clarence Thomas hearings, and the testimony of Anita Hill, we knew that something was not right with this picture. We saw what the United States Senate looks like, and it did not look like us. It did not look like the people in this auditorium, we who are the real face of America, black, white, Asian, women, and men....

Not very long ago, the world looked gloriously hopeful when images of wild celebration marked the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was the end of communism, the beginning of freedom, and a time of delirious happinesss....

Today, that delirium seems like a dream, as we look at Bosnia and Herzegovnia....

You roller-coastered from optimism to pessimism with Desert Storm. The night the sky lit up over Baghdad, America, for one brief moment, looked invincible, once again.... Today, we question anew, what was gained, and what in fact, we lost in that war.

[T]he aftermath of the Exxon Valdez, when birds were picked up on the beach, coated with oil, which never could completedly be washed clean. Today, new evidence tells us that the damage was great and lasting. Our environmental neglect now makes us look differently at the sun in the sky, wondering whether the ozone layer will be there to protect us....

The anxiety facing this country is as great as your childhood anxieties over nuclear war. Only this time, the enemy is not external, it is internal, right here, within ourselves. And the weapons of destruction are not identifiable, they are illusive, because they have to do with such things as an erosion of morality, justice, compassion, and generosity of spirit.

You ... have no choice, whether or not to lead lives that can make a difference. That is a luxury given to prior generations....

For the first time in many years, Americans are saying, by a percentage of 64 percent, that more must be done for the poor in our inner cities, not less....

For the first time, women are running in record numbers for the United States Congress, for the Senate, for just about every elective office in the country.... These are the signs that tell us how quickly, and unexpectedly this country can change, and how anger, can be transformed into action.... The Rev. Lois Wilson, former president, World Council of Churches, Ripon College, Ripon, Wis.

I think we would be greatly improved if we all wore fish-eye lenses on our eyes because that way we could see the world at 180 degrees. We could see the world whole and as it really is instead of only our own little part of it. I think if we wore good hearing aids and perhaps a clothespin for the mouth, that would help too because we might then listen to people of the third world and people who are very different from ourselves.... I think it would help if we had flippers for our feet such as scuba diver s wear because those of us who are attempting to create and sustain authentic human community in our world really need a little extra propelling.... Hillary Clinton, attorney, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton, Wellesley (Mass.) College

We grew up in a decade dominated by dreams and disillusionments. Dreams of the civil-rights movements, of the Peace Corps, of the space program. Disillusionments starting with President Kennedy's assassination, accelerated by the divisive war in Vietnam, and the deadly mixture of poverty, racism, and despair that burst into flames in the hearts of some cities and which is still burning today.

I was here on campus when Martin Luther King was murdered. My friends and I put on black armbands and went into Boston to march in anger and pain - feeling as many of you did after the acquittals in the Rodney King case.

The most eloquent explanation I have found of what I believe now and what I argued then is from Vaclav Havel, the playwright and first freely elected president of Czechoslovakia.

In a letter from prison to his wife, Olga, he wrote: "Only by looking outward, by caring for things that, in terms of pure survival, you needn't bother with at all ... and by throwing yourself over and over again into the tumult of the world, with the intention of making your voice count - only thus will you really become a person."...

Today, our greatest national threat comes not from some external Evil Empire, but from our own internal Indifferent Empire....

As women today, you face tough choices. You know the rules are basically as follows: If you don't get married, you're abnormal. If you get married but don't have children, you're a selfish yuppie. If you get married and have children, but work outside the home, you're a bad mother. If you get married and have children, but stay home, you've wasted your education. And if you don't get married, but have children and work outside the home as a fictional newscaster, then you're in trouble with the vice presi dent.... LAUGH AT LIFE A LITTLE Geena Davis, movie actress, New England College, Henniker, N.H.

I've been trying to figure out why they asked me to give this address. What valuable life lessons did they hope I could offer? What did they anticipate I would talk about?

All I can figure is: they must want me to talk about what I know best.

So I have titled today's commencement address: "HOW TO BECOME A MOVIE STAR." Jeff Danziger, editorial cartoonist, The Christian Science Monitor, Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vt.

My one piece of advice is to keep your sense of humor above all....

We now have self-cartooning politicians. I mean if you proposed a cartoon in which a vice president tries to blame a billion-dollar riot on a television sitcom no one would print it. Editors would ask, "Where do you get these crazy ideas?" If you propose a cartoon on trade dumping, where the President of the United States throws up on the prime minister of Japan, everybody's seen it already....

Life is after all, essentially a joke.

If you don't think so, look at the hats you're wearing....

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