A turn of the tassel, and off they go
Commencement speakers exhort graduates to live as global citizens and to maintain 'quickness of sympathy.'
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Nobel Prize-winning novelist
Emory College, Atlanta
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The human condition can be understood as a series of immense climaxes and cataclysms in the historical record, but equally and intimately, the human condition is experienced in the privacy and bewilderment of the individual consciousness.
If literature has a virtue, if those works of the human imagination that have been preserved for millennia have a virtue, it is surely their ability to make us realize fully and feelingly what is happening to us as individuals and as nations. We need this realization. The strange truth is this: It is in times of deepest public crisis that we are driven deepest into our private selves.
You graduate at a solemn moment, in the aftermath of grave suffering endured on your shores and grave action taken beyond them, and as citizens of this more somber world you will be faced with the challenge to maintain both balance of mind and quickness of sympathy - to maintain what poet Wilfred Owen called the "eternal reciprocity of tears."
To put it more simply, you will be challenged to be wise and to be good. Turn to the poets and writers and visionaries who took the strain and held the line and stood their ground in the hard-won, decisive place. And then, Class of 2003, go you in your turn and do likewise.
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh
The United States has become a military, economic, and cultural power the likes of which the world has never seen. Americans can rightly take pride in that fact, and we do. But we must never mistake that power for who we truly are.
Long before it became a colossus on the world stage, our nation was known for the spirit of its remarkable people. Everywhere in the world, that spirit has touched a chord. It touched me as a girl growing up far away in Mozambique. America isn't just a country; it is an ideal. Here, freedom is defined not just by the absence of tyranny, but by the presence of those most elusive of human faiths: faith in ourselves and trust in each other.
As you leave here today, graced with a level of education available to only the smallest fraction of the world's citizens, I hope you will think about how to carry that spirit with you.
It will be the defining challenge of your generation. And while we may fight for it at times on the field of battle, the cause will ultimately be lost or won on the field of ideas. Your generation will win it by creating a world where differences in race and culture and religion are accepted, where the environment is protected, where human rights are valued, and where individuals can live their lives in dignity and to the utmost of their abilities. Make that your fight. Make that your struggle.
Former secretary of State
Washington University, St. Louis
Today, in most places, in most cases, America will stand taller and do better if we are part of a larger team. This matters to us all, because we have learned over and over again that the ideals transmitted and cherished at Washington University and other great centers of liberal education are not self-perpetuating.
Our ideals have enemies, and those enemies can amass great power and inflict enormous harm, especially when democratic forces are divided and bickering.
What is vital is that free nations continue to agree on the big things, so that past mistakes become future lessons, and the demons of terror and totalitarianism, genocide and ethnic cleansing, are recognized early and stoutly opposed.
I hope each of you will use the knowledge gained here at this university to be more than a consumer of liberty, but also a defender and an enricher of it, employing your talents to heal, help, and teach. I hope you will be doers not drifters, and that you will choose to live life boldly, with largeness of spirit and generosity of heart.
It is said that all work that is worth doing is done in faith.
Today, I urge us all to embrace the faith that every dispute remedied by our patience, every prejudice rebutted by our courage, every danger surmounted by our vigilance, and every barrier to justice brought down by our determination will ennoble our own lives, inspire others, and explode outward the boundaries of what is achievable on this earth.