During the last month, more than a million students graduated from American colleges and universities, and most of them heard a commencement address. These speeches usually open with an apology for subjecting the graduates to such seriousness on a sunny spring day. Truth to tell, these apologies were often appropriate. But the opportunity - however hypothetical in practice - to try to set young minds straight as they embark upon life's road also can inspire genuine reflection and insight. From the Rev. Laurence Jenco, a former hostage in Beirut, recalling his prayers for his captors, to actor John Amos telling how life prepared him for the part of Kunte Kinte in ``Roots,'' commencement 1987 was, at its best, a kind of national colloquy on the hopes and concerns of the day.
Excerpts follow. More to come on Thursday.
It was Christmas, 1985. We were told by our captors that we could write a letter to our families. I simply wrote that if they wished to know where I was spiritually - read Psalm 116, 117, 118. And if I am to die, I pray it will be with the words of the Lord Jesus on my lips, ``Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.'' I asked my family not to hate my captors....
Three months prior to my release one of my captors, who had been with me for most of my 19 months, sat on the edge of my mat. He said, ``Abouna, do you remember the first six months of your captivity?'' I responded, ``Yes, I do remember with tremendous grief and sadness.'' He then said, ``Do you forgive me?'' To which I responded, ``Yes, I do forgive you and ask your for giveness, too.'' For there were times during those six months I was filled with anger and hate. And on the evening of my release, Haj, quoting from my letter home to my loved ones, said, ``Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.'' I could not help but think these were the words of Jesus - who dies in Peace and returns to his disciples not with anger, retaliation against them, but with the simple greeting, ``Peace be with you.''
The Rev. Lawrence Jenco, Catholic Relief Services,
The United Nations is essential for the world, not so much for what it has done but for what it must do to make the world a place of peace and justice.
The UN did stop aggression in Korea. It stopped fighting in Kashmir and in Cyprus. It is a meeting place for all nations great and small. Many nations, very small ones, who have only a few ambassadors, can deal with other nations. It is a place where nations who have no relations can establish them. Last year, I was charged with negotiating the establishment of diplomatic relations between the US and Outer Mongolia.
The UN has made aggression a shameful thing. People fear condemnation there even though it might not yet have teeth, but it still has a long way to go and it is our duty to help it.
Vernon Walters, US ambassador to the UN,
Nuclear weapons are here to stay. You cannot get rid of them, even though Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev are saying they'd like to and we should move in that direction. There are too many of them, they're too destructive, they're too easy to hide, too easy to deliver. Now, Einstein said that, as you well know, everything has changed since the splitting of the atom, except our way of thinking. Well, he was a great man, he was right, but he didn't go far enough. I'd like the graduates to keep in mind that if you change your way of thinking, the next step is to change your way of acting. We've been thinking about this for a long time, it's time to start acting differently now.
Gene La Rocque, retired rear admiral, United States Navy,
National identity and race
I really didn't decide on an acting career until after I had exhausted just about every other job possibility in the world. I'd been a truck driver, a garbage man, right in the streets of East Orange, a job that I got immediately after graduation that was to be a summer job. And I found I was capable of doing a job society looks on as being demeaning, but to do it with a certain amount of pride.
It was ``Roots,'' and the character of Kunte Kinte, that gave me the greatest satisfaction as an actor, and as an Afro-American. While attending grade school here in New Jersey, Stockton School, and Columbian Junior High, I was given the unique opportunity of being one of a small group of black students that integrated both those schools. Our textbooks at that time, specifically our history texts, were less than accurate, and at least insensitive in their recording of the contributions, the trials, and tribulations of my ancestors.
Now years later, again following God's plan, I would begin a series of trips to Africa, where unconsciously I would absorb minutiae, which are the things that an actor draws on if he's fortunate enough to be given a role in which he can use all these things that he's acquired, and all these experiences that he's been subjected to. At the time that I was making these trips it was primarily for fact finding, for my own personal satisfaction. I had no idea that Alex Haley was writing that book. But somehow, a greater force than anything I've ever seen and known, was directing all of us through experiences that would ultimately result in the program ``Roots.'' This gave me an opportunity as an actor, and as a human being, to offset some of the obvious, insensitive stereotypes that had been perpetrated and to shed a very bright light on a dark moment in our history.
John Amos, actor and director,
...I think that with each film, each story I have struggled with, my sense has sharpened that a thread runs through all the stories, connects these histories, one to the other.
That thread is the essential American one: the struggle for human freedom. ... And I know this is what has drawn me to the Civil War, for in that war the issue of human freedom came from this country, for our people, to the profoundest and most tragic crux. I think of what James Symington, a former congressman and father of a Hampshire student, said in an interview for our film last year. Slavery, he said, was merely the horrible statutory expression of a deeper rift between peoples based on race, and this rift is what we struggle still to erase from the hearts and minds of people.
That rift stands at the very center of American history; it is the great challenge to which all our deepest aspirations to freedom must rise. If we forget that, if we forget the great stain of slavery that stands at the heart of our history, we forget who we are, and we make the rift deeper and wider. And that's what forgetting is: making the human rift wider.
Ken Burns, Hampshire graduate and film maker
Your caring makes a difference, if only to let the victims know that they are not alone, that the world cares; if only to subvert the morale of the perpetrators, so that they will know that in the end they won't prevail.
Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Prize winner,
Media and character
You won't be surprised to learn that there is not a great deal of room on television for complexity. We are nothing as an industry if not attuned to the appetites and limitations of our audience. We have learned, for example, that your attention span is brief. We should know. We helped make it that way.
Watch ``Miami Vice'' some Friday night. You will find not only a pastel-colored world, which neatly symbolizes the moral ambiguity of that program, you will discover that no scene lasts longer than 10 or 15 seconds. It is a direct reflection of the television industry's confidence in your ability to concentrate.
We require nothing of you. Only that you watch or say that you are watching if Mr. Nielsen's representatives happen to call.
Ted Koppel, host of ABC `Nightline,'
Over the years, young people like yourselves have come to me seeking advice about how to break into the business. I always ask the same question and I always get the same answer. I ask, ``What do you want to do in the business?'' What do you think the answer is? It is always the same answer, the same answer that two-thirds of the recent Miss America's have given about careers, ``I want to be an anchorperson.'' And they want it now. The ``anchorman syndrome'' is such that rarely do these people say that they want to become an anchorperson in the old fashioned way by earning it, by learning the tools of the reporter's trade, by rising up through the ranks, by covering the police beat in a small town, then moving on from that....
Morton Dean, news anchor,
Ohio Wesleyan University