`I REPRESENT the last obstacle standing between you and your hard-won degrees," said one good-natured commencement speaker as he addressed a group of graduates this spring. His listeners, eager to receive their diplomas at last, may not have caught his every word. Yet his speech and many others across the country invited moments of reverence and reflection, offered advice, wisdom, and a perspective on recent events that may be of interest to a wider audience. Here are some excerpts from this year's addre sses: * Tom Brokaw, network news anchor, at the University of Virginia:
Class of 1993, you are educated. Your certification is your degree. You may think of it as a ticket to the good life. But why not consider it a ticket as well to join the revolution of democracy. You may say, but democracy is already here. I have what the others want. True. And you also have certain assumptions, and you are not alone. Among them: There will be more of everything. More affluence, more freedom, more rights because it's our due somehow. This expectation is not confined to your generation. A s a society we have come to believe, all of us, that what we do have is maintenance free.
It is not. It requires vigilance and nourishment. That is your responsibility - and it is mine. It is the obligation of all, but it is especially the responsibility of the educated.
You, after all, are privileged. You have been nurtured in the comforting environs of a great university. You leave here armed with an education that your generational counterparts in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, China, South Africa could only envy. What do you think, for example, a young Czech or a young East German would do with an education comparable to yours? Or a young black South African? Or a young Chinese? * Hillary Rodham Clinton, first lady, University of Michigan:
Excellence is not just a word, it is a benchmark. ... And when I talk about excellence, let me just expand for a moment on what I mean. To me, excellence is not found in any single moment in our lives. It is not about those who shine always in the sun, or those who fail to succeed in the darkness of human error or mistake. It is not about who is up or down today or this week. It is about who we are, what we believe in, what we do with every day of our lives. And for me, it is always telling ... as to how
someone deals with adversity and challenge.
... We will need to take a collective deep breath and decide how we will proceed in this moment of history to deal with the challenges we face. And you each will have a role in that. You each, by effort and planning, will shape a life and make a contribution, or by the abdication of responsibility for your life, you will have your life shaped for you.
Like generations of Americans before you, you will look for the right balance in your lives - a balance of work, family, and service; a balance between your rights as individuals and your responsibilities to your families, your communities, and your country....
* William A. Schreyer, chairman of the board of Merrill Lynch & Co., Smeal College of Business, Pennsylvania State University:
When you graduates take off your gowns today and leave Penn State, you'll encounter, first hand, the powerful forces changing our society, our government, and our economy. In our era, the only real constant is change itself.
Here'e one change you're going to discover as you go out in the world as an accountant, a marketing expert, a business professional. You're going to say, "Trust me. I know what I'm doing."
Unfortunately, you're going to discover that basic trust is a very precious commodity these days. People have been burned ... by what's seen as widespread decay in personal responsibility and accountability. So a big part of your job will be winning and holding their trust, and there's only one way to do that: through the personal example of integrity you set every day, in your dealings with customers, fellow workers, government regulators, and fellow citizens.
That's just a long way of saying "take the high road" - because over the long term it's the only road that takes you where you need to go. * Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, governor of Virginia, Morehouse College (Georgia):
I am convinced that you will not allow the pessimism of those who believe in conventional wisdom to deter you in your quests. We are one nation, under God, indivisible, but we also are individuals who can insist and ensure that there be liberty and justice for all.
... Unless we exercise our rights and demand justice, justice will not be served.
If we do not continue the fight for civil rights, who will? If we do not fight to clean up our streets, and rid ourselves of drugs and violence, can we expect the police alone to make a difference?
If we do not aspire to positions of power, and disprove the claims that our success is based on quotas, how will it be done?
Filling quotas and making token appointments will never suffice. It will not prove our worth, nor will it promote the cause of freedom.
Your life will be surrounded by change, and so you must become accustomed to the whirlwind that spins our planet.
We can deny change and face it with confusion and fear, or we can accept it and attempt to mold it through our determination. * Katie Couric, television personality, Villanova University (Pennsylvania):
... [B]e prepared for the fact that not everyone is going to be your cheerleader. When I was working hard to be a reporter, I was confronted with naysayers all the time. She looks too young, people would say. After a story I ran on CNN, the president of the company called and told the assignment editor he never wanted me on the air again.
... Comments like those could easily be deflating and discouraging. But I refused to let them be. It just made me work harder, made me want to improve all the more. And I matured and got better. And it paid off. In other words, believe in yourself. You know what you can do.
... And do something you love. You know my job gives me access to some of the most successful people in the world. ... I've found that there's one common denominator among successful people. They all love their jobs. The dictionary definition of work includes "toil," "drudgery," and "travail." Those should be antonyms, not synonyms. Ideally, work should feel like play. If you love what you're doing, the devotion will follow. And so will success. Getting a hold of the brass ring isn't very fulfilling if y ou don't enjoy riding the merry-go-round. * Billy Joel, musician, Berklee College of Music (Massachusetts):
Artists - musicians, painters, writers, poets - always seem to have had the most accurate perception of what is really going on around them, not the official version or the popular perception of contemporary life. When I look at great works of art or listen to inspired music, I sense intimate portraits of the specific times in which they were created. And they have lasted because someone, somewhere, felt compelled to create it, and someone else understood what they were trying to do. Why do we still resp ond when we hear the opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony - DA DA DA DA? Or Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue? Or Little Richard's Tutti Fruitti? Because when we hear it we realize that we are still bound by a common emotion to those who came before us. Like family, we are irrevocably tied to each other because that same emotion exists today. ...
I can't think of a person I've ever met who didn't like some type of music. More than art, more than literature, music is universally accessible. For whatever reason, not all people are born with the particular gift that we have: the gift of being able to express ourselves through music. ... [P]eople who don't have this ability still need to find a way to give a voice to what they're thinking and feeling, to find something that connects them with others.
... [I]f you make this music for the human needs you have within yourself, then you do it for all humans who need the same things. Ultimately, you enrich humanity with the profound expression of these feelings. * Jimmy Carter, former president of the United States, Rice University (Texas):
When you are at the college age and have the experience behind you with an expanded mind and expanded heart to learn more about other people and more about God's world, it is the best time to say, "What will I do with my life? How can I be successful?" and more important, "What is success?"
This was a question asked by the early Christians of Paul. "What are the permanent things in life?" And I'm sure they had the same image in their mind as you have. A good house, good transportation, security in one's old age. And Paul said, "The permanent things are the things that you cannot see." And they were in a quandary about what he meant. And he was talking about justice and truth and sharing and service and compassion, and, if you'll excuse the expression, love. * Frank H. T. Rhodes, president of Cornell University, Cornell University (New York):
Let me suggest three things that are important for success in Life 101.
First, connect with things beyond your major, so that at the center of your life there is something strong and worthy. For four years plus, you've focused your attention. That's good. But its possible to be Phi Beta Kappa and still a doughnut - empty at the core. Drink in the grandeur of existence.
Someone once commented to the 19th-century painter and critic John Ruskin, in reference to a particular painting, that he had never seen a sunset of that particular hue. To which Ruskin replied, "But don't you wish you had?" And it is through our ability to see beyond the limitations of our narrow specialties, to see things as they are, and not only as they are, but as they might be; to make the leap and forge the connections that others have missed that life gains meaning.
Victor E. Weisskopf, in his book "The Privilege of Being a Physicist," wrote, "I often tell my students, when they are depressed by the world, that there are only two things that make my life worth living: Mozart and quantum mechanics." And although each of us will choose our own things to connect to, it is those connections that sharpen the mind, nourish the soul, and fill the void. What makes life worth living for you? Connect with it. "Only connect!"
Second, connect to some people - people whose poetry will illumine your prose. Connect, not just to your family or a spouse or a loved one, though you must - absolutely must - keep those links strong. Also connect to those you are thrown together with day by day. The fellowship you've enjoyed in a host of ways on campus is too precious to let go. Cherish those friendships. Keep those connections strong. And remember that life presents endless opportunities for being open and responsive to the people you encounter every day, and it is those connections that define our humanity. "Only Connect."
Connect to life's moods and rhythms. Connect to the beauty that has been so much a part of your time at Cornell, so that art and music and literature will be your companions on the continuing journey. Connect to those around you, in your families and in your communities. Connect to large and noble purposes so that the spirit of service, of sharing and giving, may continue to enrich your life. * Steven C. Beering, president of Purdue University, Purdue University (Indiana):
We can't know the future, but we can learn from the past, and one of the things history teaches us is that problems often are solved in unexpected ways. A century ago, some scientists were able to present irrefutable proof that our cities were doomed by the ever-growing problem of horse-manure disposal. Those people had all the statistics at their command. They had twenty-twenty eyesight, but they lacked vision.
We can't teach you vision at a university, but we can help you learn to open your minds, and that is why I have no worries about the future of this country or this world. The purpose of this education was not just to prepare you for a career or to transmit a body of knowledge. It was to unleash your creative powers. Collectively as a new generation, you will meet the awesome challenges the 21st century presents. Individually, some of you may change the course of history. You will find answers that my gen eration did not dream of, because we were too steeped in the past.
None of the obstacles to progress that history has placed before the human race has been a match for the inquisitive, open, and educated mind. It is the greatest power on earth, and it belongs to you. Walk into the next century with eagerness, determination, and confidence. You will not just muddle through. You will triumph, because you are prepared.