Farewell to Grads

Excerpts from commencement speeches reflect news and views of the year

Family issues Barbara Bush, first lady of the United States, Wellesley College (Mass.):

For several years, you've had impressed upon you the importance to your career of dedication and hard work. This is true, but as important as your obligations as a doctor, lawyer, or business leader will be, you are a human being first and those human connections - with spouses, with children, with friends - are the most important investments you will ever make.

At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.

Elizabeth Dole, US secretary of labor, Emory University (Ga.):

I well remember my first day at Harvard Law School. There were 500 members of the class of 1965, and only 24 were women. A male student came up to me and asked what I was doing there. In what can only be described as tones of moral outrage, he said ``Don't you realize that there are men who would give their right arm to be in this law school - men who would use their legal education?'' ...

That man is now a senior partner in one of Washington's most prestigious law firms. And ever so often, I share this little story around town. You'd be amazed at the number of my male classmates who've called me to say, ``Please tell me I'm not the one! Tell me I didn't say that, Elizabeth.''

Well, we have come a long way since then, though we women have not reached the millennium. But, today, over 40 percent of the Harvard Law School class is female. The number of women professionals - lawyers and doctors, for instance, has almost doubled since 1972. And the number of women in managerial positions has almost tripled. ... And in record numbers, men and women alike are searching for jobs which make work and family compatible, and not conflicting goals.

Cokie Roberts, broadcast journalist, Bryn Mawr College (Pa.):

Life is long. You'll have lots of opportunities, lots of different things to do and you don't have to do them all at once. You can, you just don't sleep very much. I've never played any sports so that saves a lot of time.

It's also true that you don't have to take the perfect job at just that moment if it's the wrong thing for your family. I'm living proof of that. I've said no to lots of jobs. It's still worked out fine. You really have to take the long view.

Kathleen Turner, actress, Emerson College (Mass.):

I am a feminist, and I'm proud of it! ... To be a feminist one may assume all kinds of roles, but one doesn't have to be a radical, or a ``career woman,'' or even a woman for that matter. To be a feminist, one has only to esteem women equally with men;...

Global Change

Yuri V. Dubinin, Soviet, ambassador, George Washington University (D.C.):

Your class of 1990 is starting out in life in a unique world, which is changing rapidly, as never before.

Perhaps, a Soviet Ambassador has more reason to say that, since in my country a week and sometimes a day brings changes which otherwise would have taken years....

As to relations between the Soviet Union and the United States, they have become a proving ground for innovative approaches to world affairs. Over the years our best political minds thought of ways to deceive or defeat the enemy. Now we are learning to think about each other not as adversaries but as partners.

Daniel Inouye, chairman, US Senate Committee on Defense, Appropriations, Brandeis University (Mass.):

As a result of the extraordinary events in Eastern Europe, coupled with the crumbling of the [Berlin] Wall, the assassination of some of the communist leaders, the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact, and the extraordinary words of Gorbachev - his glasnost and perestroika - we find in America a great spirit of peace and euphoria - something that we have not seen for a long, long time in this land. And today in the Congress of the United States, among my colleagues, the favored words are ``peace dividends.'' In fact, some of my colleagues have already spent these ``dividends.''

Alexander Dubcek, president of Czechoslovakia, American University (D.C.):

Coexistence, which is something we talked about for years upon years, is beginning to turn into cooperation, a closer understanding between nations and countries. ...

Today we stand before many questions. So far, we have no clear answers. We are still searching for a path to make our way in this new world of new politics. ...

We now stand at the turn of the century, and of the millennium. Many trends will be evaluated, others will be forecast.

I would like to see the evaluation of the two halves of this century, so different from each other, carry us toward new concepts with which to begin the new century, a century of maximum creativity and humanity. I see the new century as one of great cooperation between nations, a century marked by the melding of political systems.

Virgilio Barco, president of Columbia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Mass.):

Democracy is not a distant notion at all in Columbia. Indeed, our position in Latin America is somewhat unique. Our Constitution is nearly as old as yours and our democratic institutions have long been a model for our neighbors. This is the true significance of our current struggle, for the greatest threat to our democracy is narcoterrorism and the insatiable worldwide demand for drugs which fuels it. In the past, we usually saw extremist ideologies as the most serious threat to democracy, but now drugs and organized crime are even more dangerous, not only to our democracy, but to yours as well.

George Bush, president of the US, University of South Carolina:

In the past year, one nation after another has pulled itself out from under communism, onto the threshold of democracy. Each has endured great suffering - tremendous economic damage. We've all seen the images of long lines and empty shelves. But what we can't see so easily - what's beneath the surface, but no less real - is the moral damage: The deep scars on the spirit left by four decades of communist rule....

Fortunately, the moral destruction in Eastern Europe was not complete. Individuals somehow managed to maintain the inner strength - their moral compass....

Tom Foley, speaker, US House of Representatives, Whitman College (Wash.):

Although the cold war as we knew it has ended, the struggle to establish and secure human liberty has not. Relieved of some of the burden of defending our military security, we are freer to devote our energy and our resources to other challenges, those of economic development, economic competition, the global environment, and to securing human rights and human dignity.

Tom Brokaw, journalist, Duke University (N.C.):

Your's is a time of explosive, dizzying, exhilarating, cataclysmic change. You do not have to await the judgment of future historians or social commentators. You can feel the earth moving now as freedom and independence erupt with volcanic force, from the tip of South Africa to the northern Baltics, from the remote reaches of Mongolia to the rarified heights of Nepal.

Bill Moyers, journalist, Middlebury College (Vt.):

I often wonder at commencements if a stranger from one generation can say much that is helpful to members of another generation standing on a different doorstep in time. Just as a life is a particular life, so a generation lives in its own unique time. You must make your own map into the strange new country of the future. Here at Middlebury you have had your questions answered. Life after college, I can tell you, is where you get your answers questioned, in your own conversation with the world.


Lester R. Brown, president, Worldwatch Institute, Ripon College (Wis.):

If we look at the trend since 1970, Earth Day 1970 up until Earth Day 1990 that we celebrated a few weeks ago, we see that the gap between what we need to be doing to reverse the degradation of the planet and what we are doing is continuing to widen. Despite the fact that the environmental movement has grown enormously over the past 20 years, it is still not big enough and strong enough to turn around the trends. We're all going to have to become environmental activists....

What we need to do to get the Earth on to an environmentally sustainable path is enormous. It's going to require changes probably more like the restructuring of the US economy during World War II, during the early '40s, than any other historical experience. The stakes, however, are higher today.

Stephen Jay Gould, paleontologist, Clark University (Mass.):

The '90s, they tell us, is the decade of the environment. And I think that is probably correct. There's a romantic myth that states that people used to live in harmony, in the old hunter-gatherer days, with their local environments and that's not true. Maybe sometimes true. Death, spoilage, and deprivation has always been part of our heritage....

But the point is, until this decade, environmental deprivation has always been local. ... The thing that is different about the '90s ... is the global character of environmental issues. For the first time we're really having global effects.

Humor Bill Cosby, actor and comedian, University of Notre Dame (Ind.):

Let each person, every person in this room think about the stupid things that they have done.

Many. And all the lies, the selfishness, the me-ism, and what you told your parents was which wasn't. And the coverups. Nixon is nothing compared - and then when they caught you, when they caught you, how you lied, how you pretended you didn't know, how you have this amnesia, and as I, as I with five children now realize, it is not to ask God to give my wife and me a beautiful child or a physically healthy child or a highly intelligent child. It is our wish that if we had a sixth child, we don't care what it looks like. Or how intelligent. We just ask God, give us a child with good sense.

Chevy Chase, actor, Bard College (N.Y.):

It's customary for a commencement speaker to dole out some advice to the graduates as they enter public life. Here I go:

Avoid fatty foods. Avoid smoking, drugs, Bensonhurst, the Gaza Strip, Bungi jumping, humorless people, bad music, fashion, weight training, and hair care products.

Gary Larson, cartoonist, Washington State University:

I wish you much weirdness in your lives.

Garry Trudeau, cartoonist, Johns Hopkins University (Md.):

For those of us floundering out here in the real world, to those of you preparing to enter it, may I just say, welcome - we need you.


Marian Wright Edelman, president, Children's Defense Fund, Howard University (D.C.):

You have so much to offer so many of our young people - white and black - who are unable to handle life in hard places and who lack strong anchors to steady them in the choppy waters of 1990 America. We have not taught them the difference between substance and shadow or provided them clear compasses for navigating the morally polluted sea they must cross to adulthood.

When I was growing up in Bennettsville, S.C., service was as essential a part of my upbringing as eating and sleeping and going to school.

Caring black adults were buffers against the segregated prison of the outside world that told black children we weren't important. But we didn't believe it because our parents said it wasn't so. Our teachers said it wasn't so. And our preachers said it wasn't so. The clear childhood message I internalized was that as God's child, no man or woman could look down on me and I could look down on no man or woman. ...

[S]ervice is the rent each of us pays for living - the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time or after you have reached your personal goals.

James D. Watkins, US secretary of energy, University of Louisville (Ky.):

With the changing shape of the work force, we must make a greater effort to open up educational and employment opportunities to those who are underrepresented in science and technology. ...

Billions of federal dollars will never be the answer if they are not joined by a commitment from the community and a sense of mission and service from each and every one of you.

Children at risk cannot pull themselves up if you aren't willing to each down - and reach down you must.

World Unity

Carl Sagan, scientist and scholar, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

We are all of us, this generation and future generations and everybody on Earth, in this together. And this means that, no matter where you come from, what your ideology is, you must, now start being in favor of the unification of the planet.

Jim Florio, governor of New Jersey, Rutgers University (N.J.):

We can no longer take for granted the victories of the past against intolerance. We must live our lives with the cold realization that those battles are still being fought today.

None of us can be content simply to feel that in our heart we have no prejudice.

When we see one group going after another, we cannot be spectators. If we sit and watch, then who will stand up for us when it's our own turn to be the victim?

Raisa Gorbachev, first lady of the USSR, Wellesley College (Mass.):

We know that people in America showed great interest in what is happening in the Soviet Union, the land of perestroika. This word now sounds the same in all languages of the world.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Farewell to Grads
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today