President, Boston University
Boston University, Boston, Mass.
Looking back from today on the two decades following the American Revolution, what stands out is not the image of people exhausted by war and riven by factionalism, but a nation brimming with new ideas and eager to seize the opportunity to try them out.
The 20 years from 1783 to 1803 may have been not only the most creative in American history, but among the most creative in human history. The world we know today a world of constitutional democracy, respect for human rights, individualism, and religious toleration was born in that era.
I have ventured to remind you all of this history to offer a fresh perspective on the situation that confronts us today.
In 1783, the United States was born; today it is the world's oldest continuous democracy. But that is merely a cold fact. The warm truth is that in May 2002, the United States is once again newborn.
Democracies do not exist like insects preserved in amber. Rather they must continually re-create themselves.... [T]his American democracy urgently calls upon your creative energy, your intelligence, your discipline, your imagination, and your vision....
[The] past was only eight months ago, and the people who committed the atrocities are still heroes to millions. Turning your attention exclusively to your own pursuit of happiness is not an option.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian
Wheaton College, Norton, Mass.
You and I and all of us live in a land abundant with choices. No people in history have ever had so many choices....
Do you realize, for example, that every time you go into a grocery store a modern supermarket there are 30,000 items to choose from?... Go into any one of the giant bookstores that are everywhere today and there are about 150,000 titles on the shelves....
Today, according to the US Department of Labor there are no less than 822 specific vocations to choose from in this land, and that's just the beginning, because all these definitions of vocation include a substrate of various elements....
I would like to suggest some choices. I suggest you choose to do work you love. I suggest you remain students all your lives. If there is a highway, if there is a road to take in the pursuit of happiness, that's the one.
Let's not be a nation of spectators. Let's be builders. Build your own library, for example. Read, read, read history. By all the surveys, alas, you know too little history, but you can begin now.... Some day, some day make the choice of doing something for your country.
Molecular biologist, and President, Princeton University
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.
Engagement is precisely what is needed, as we respond to the tremendous influx of new knowledge in science and technology that seems to accelerate every day, with reports in newspapers and on the television of the possibility of cloning a human or reconstructing aging organs from stem cells prospects that either excite us or unsettle us.
But all this new scientific information is raising profound ethical questions that go to the root of what it means to be human.
Do we, for instance, want to be able to order new organs online? Or perhaps offer them on eBay to the highest bidder? Will our ... genetic imprints enter the public domain like Social Security numbers, and become available to lending institutions and health-insurance companies, not to mention thieves, con artists ... even telemarketers?
We have always struggled with the questions of when life begins and when it should end. But now we have the prospect of new questions: Will life end? Or in a few generations, will we be fighting over Thanksgiving drumsticks with our great-great-great-grandchildren? Which unfortunate relative gets stuck with cooking?...
I have painted these futuristic scenarios in a lighthearted way, but underlying each scenario is a profound question that will eventually be confronted by you.
Chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Susquehanna University, Selinsgrove, Pa.
Don't let the din of the dollar deafen you to the quiet desperation of the dispossessed. Don't let the glare of greed blind you to the many in need. You must place interest in principle above interest on principal. An early attempt at ending illiteracy in the South developed a slogan ... "each one, teach one"....
Perhaps your slogan might be: "Each one, reach one." Each one, reach one till all are registered at voting. Each one, reach one till all are productive citizens of our world. Each one, reach one till the weak are strong and the sick are healed. Each one, reach one till your problem is mine and mine is yours. Just as it's not enough for us to ignore evil, it's not enough for us just to do good. It's not enough just to feed the hungry, just to house the homeless, as commendable as these acts are. We need to end the causes of hunger and homelessness....
If we could squeeze the population of the world into a village of only 100 people keeping all the existing ratios the same, the world would look like this: There'd be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 from the Western Hemisphere both North and South, and eight Africans.
Fifty-two of the 100 would be female, 70 would be nonwhite, 70 would not be Christians, six of the people would own 60 percent of all of the wealth in the world and all six would be from the United States. Eighty would live in substandard housing, 70 would be unable to read and write, 50 would suffer from malnutrition, one would own a computer. One would have a college education.
Director of Homeland Security
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa.
When you arrived here several years ago, people were debating whether the technology-driven New Economy had rendered the business cycle a thing of the past. As you leave, the debate is over whether our economy can return to where it was before 9/11.
We've been down this path before.
In the year that many of you were born, another set of graduates sat in these seats and celebrated their achievements in a world that had also been shaken to its very foundation.
Entire industries, regional economies, and a way of life were transformed seemingly overnight. It was a time of long lines, both at the gas pumps and the unemployment offices. It was a time when we were told we must lower our expectations. Our nation's "crisis of confidence" reached all the way to the top.
More than a few analysts described that period 21 years ago not as a downturn in the business cycle but as the dawn of an economic Ice Age that would leave our nation and this region in a state of permanent decline....
Your education has prepared you for this moment. You know that creativity, whether it's artistic or technological, is the vanguard of liberty. You know that the ability to dream and to realize the fruit of your labors in pursuit of those dreams are among this country's most precious gifts. At this moment, you have the opportunity not just to do well with your talents, but to do good.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, N.Y.
Rules are maxims for life. Because I am a traditionalist, let me begin with Rule No. 1: Call your mother. Call her tomorrow and then call her the next day, too....
Rule No. 3: Please pay off your student loans. If you don't, the only people you will hurt are the kids coming after you. The loan money has been there because those who went before paid off their own loans....
Rule No. 5: Life is not like college. How many times have you been told life is not like college? It is true.... It's a lot more like high school....
Rule No. 7: If you remember nothing else, please recall the genuine wisdom of the great American writer Walker Percy, who warned us, "Do not be the kind of person who gets all A's and flunks ordinary living."
White House Chief of Staff
Franklin Pierce College, Rindge, N.H.
Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows how significant my grandmother always was in my life.... And my grandmother did encourage me to pay attention, and she did it with a pretty simple charge: "Tell me something from the newspaper today." Before every evening meal, that was the obligation of everyone at the dinner table....
I encourage all of you to pay attention to the world around you ... and I ask that you read the newspaper.
I want to leave you with very, very simple advice, and it's especially important following Sept. 11. Because evil did rain itself on America and the world on that horrible, horrible day. All of us do have a responsibility to fight evil, and many people wonder how they can do it.
But the answer is really very simple: Just do good. Good will always crowd out evil.
Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Mass.
I recall the story of the first woman on the staff of a large institution who inquired about a particularly unjust labor practice. "Madam," she was told, "we have done it that way for 100 years." "Sir," she replied, "your 100 years are up."
This kind of initiative can make vital and lasting contributions to the search for peace in our world, tapping the unique talents of women peace-builders to ... ultimately end global conflict. We desperately need new perspectives, for women's sakes and humanity's. Women are vital to the peace-building process, and peace is vital to the advancement of women.
Women know better than anyone that peace is not merely the absence of hostilities, but must grow from the positive human security found in equity, tolerance, and understanding. Women are often the most vulnerable victims during war, and the ones who are left to pick up the shattered pieces of their societies, as well as their own lives.
Given the intense commercialization of Western culture, and the current anxiety about job prospects, it's easy to assume that college graduates are dyed-in-the-wool materialists, interested solely in personal gain and career advancement. But there is heartening evidence to the contrary.
CBS News Anchor
University of Texas at Austin College of Communication
You will all have to answer in one way or another to the particular demands of your chosen profession or craft. We all do. Sometimes work is just work, and there are times when a career unfolds moment to moment, irrespective of any overarching, unifying theme. There will be hours and days when the work at hand will be sufficient to occupy all your resources and attention.
You will find, if you do not take special care, that these moments have a way of attaching themselves to one another. They accumulate. And they can supply their own forward momentum to propel you forward over the years. Many a life is made up of little more than these moments, placed end on end, with one's head down, continually pushing one's own stone up one's own hill, and precious little thought given to the context, the larger plan.
It should not, does not need to be that way.... I encourage you to pause, and give thought not only to what you want to do ... but how you want to go about doing it. In fact, the "what," in many respects, has a way of taking care of itself. Your specific passions and interests will change and evolve. New roads and vistas will open themselves to you if you have the eyes to see and the will to follow...
But the "how" is much harder to make up as you go.... This is what I mean by "deciding what it is that you want to say": Now, you have an opportunity to find your voice ... to discover within yourselves what message you want the accumulated moments of your own lives to convey.
Academy Award-winning actress
Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass.
[A]s I came in I saw your loved ones, and the thing ... that was so wonderful was seeing everybody's hopes and dreams realized or a great many of the hopes and dreams realized and seeing all those little kids and realizing that in their seeing you all, their hopes and dreams are possible.
This is the key thing, because, let's face it, since Sept. 11 the world has been vastly different, and we can be as wonderful and marvelous a group of women as we choose to be, but what really counts right now is who you wish to be from here on in.
[I]t doesn't matter about your shoes, or how much money you have, or where you are from, or what your color is.... [People] will try to make you believe that it is not OK to be an individual.... In some way shape or form, it is. I am living proof that it is OK to be different.
This world truly does require your help.... It requires your pausing a moment before you get flippant with somebody.... You've got to pause. The world right now is about pause before you speak, before you pass judgment, before you decide what somebody else is not.... Because what you say, and how you act towards people, has taken on new meaning.