'Roll up your sleeves. Let the work begin.'
Pulitzer-Prize winning author and social and political commentatorSkip to next paragraph
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Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
For those of you who have not prospered academically, let me give you a bit of good news - you are being addressed by someone who was in the bottom half of his class at Harvard. Or, in fact, if you want to be a didactic about it, the bottom third of his class. So there is life after college; I'm proof of it.
Let me jump ahead to the mandatory part of the speech - words of direction from the old to the young - the requisite geezer wisdom.
Other than the choice of a lifetime partner, nothing determines happiness so much as choosing the right kind of work. It is a choice about what is good for you, not what is good for others whom you greatly respect - your parents, an admired professor, a significant other. The choice is not about what makes them happy, but about what makes you happy. Not what brings you the biggest salary and the biggest house or the greatest respect from Wall Street, but what makes you feel complete and happy and makes you feel, for this is no small thing, like a part of something larger than yourself, a part of a community.
Do not be afraid to take chances when you are young, to choose the unconventional over the conventional. Often it is experience in the unconventional which prepares you best for the conventional. Be aware that it's all right to make mistakes, and it is all right to try at something and fail.
House minority leader, highest-ranking woman in the history of the United States Congress
Simmons College, Boston
I sit at the table of power with the President of the United States and top leaders of Congress. At that table, national security, the economy, and other vital national issues are discussed. And I am astounded that in more than 200 years in our nation's history, no women had ever had a seat at that table. We need to change that.
I can tell you from firsthand experience that any discussion of the most serious issues facing our country is enhanced by diversity at the table - diversity of gender and ethnic diversity. The more the tables of power reflect the beautiful diversity of our country, the more their policies will reflect the aspirations of all the American people. We need more women leaders in government because it takes the full spectrum of human talent to administer our complex society. Men and women each possess distinctive gifts and insights. What is that difference? It's that special strength that comes to us because women must deal with complexity, day by day in our own lives and, increasingly, in public life as well.
Not only are we changing the world, but we also bring with us the best of our identities. We bring family. We bring compassion. We bring sensitivity and care. And we bring our communities. Because women are loyal to their communities, our communities are turning to us increasingly for leadership.
Actor, director, and activist
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.
When I started the Sundance Film Festival, I was advised against it. I was told nobody's going to come. Who cares about independent film, it's a subject that's DOA and I said I just want to do it. So we did ... and no one came. And then I said we're going to do something to draw attention to it, we're going to put it in the winter, we're going to put it up in the mountains. And they said, "Sure, Bob, good, enjoy your lonely time up there." And I did, for a while. There I was standing out there with a staff pulling people in off the streets to go see the movie and they said, "I will if you sit in there with me!" So it was a hard time and yes, I'm happy to say, it's gone to new and better places. But like anything when you are trying to do something new, there is going to be a struggle and you have to have a lot of passion behind it.