To the Class of 2007: 'Listen to your hearts'
Politicians, activists, even rock musicians deliver commencement addresses across the country.
It's that season again – time for college seniors to gather for one final lecture. This spring, graduation speakers touched on the need for respect, the joy of collaboration, and the importance of honoring those who couldn't join them because of deployments to faraway lands.
Here's a sampling of some of the wisdom dispensed to the Class of 2007:
Berklee College of Music, Boston
The thing I want to say is: Collaborate.
Collaborating with talented people is not easy, but it's the way to really shine – you shine brighter if you are working with really great people. The important thing in the end is not that you are proved right every time; the important thing is that the music is the best that it can be. I want to wish you all that you would find your own voice. But if you are so disposed that you would find collaborators to work with, that you would shine as you could never shine on your own.
Human rights activist
Bentley College, Waltham, Mass.
Those of you sitting here are not self-made people. Not to take away from your achievements, [but] you know that those people sitting behind you – your family and friends, along with your college faculty and staff; those who came before you to put up the buildings; those who gave to the college so you would have the wonderful facilities you now have – you know that each of these people have part of the degree that you are going to receive....
But of all those people who went before to prepare the way for us, most of those people will not ask us to pay them back. But what they do ask of us is to pay it forward – that we make this world a better place for those who come after us in just the way that they made this a better place for us.
Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Our society today is plagued with too many people who are not willing to entertain the "could be's, the maybe's, the might be's." Instead, they are focused on the "can't be's, the won't be's, or the nevers." As a woman growing up deaf, who wanted to be an actress, despite what others may have thought was impossible, I know firsthand what wonder there is if we consider what is possible. And I know the same is true for you....
Make sure you are more than what people think you are and much more even that. With that comes a responsibility to help others who may not have achieved that understanding. Along the way, don't forget to volunteer, to love, to laugh, pay your taxes, but most of all, never forget to listen. Listen to your hearts.
Former US president
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.
What is the fundamental nature of your world, the 21st century world? Most people say "globalization."
I far prefer "interdependence," because this is about more than economics, travel, and even information technology. This is about the increasing web that binds us together, the increasing diversity within all rich countries. Interdependence has no necessary value content. It simply means we cannot escape each other. Divorce is not an option.
Chairman of the NAACP
Loyola University, New Orleans
An early attempt at ending illiteracy in the South developed a slogan that was also their method – "Each One Teach One" until all could read. After [hurricane] Katrina, Loyola University instituted the "Each One Reach One" campaign to get every member of its community to recommend a student to apply for the class of 2010. As you leave Loyola, you can continue and expand Each One Reach One.
Each one reach one until we all are registered and voting.
Each one reach one until we all are productive citizens of our world.
Each one reach one until the weak are strong and the sick are healed.
Each one reach one until your problem is mine, until mine is yours....
This is not easy work, but you know what hard work is – that is what brought you here today.
Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Let me also say something about those who are not here today. While we are gathered here, in this place of privilege and promise, other young men and women, your fellow citizens, many of them without the advantages that brought you to this ceremony of hope and celebration, are in uniform and in harm's way.
However you feel about the decisions that placed them in peril, you must not forget them or their families, for they have volunteered to risk their lives if necessary to insure your security and defend this country. They come from working-class families in places such as Big Timber, Montana; the barrios of East Los Angeles; the African-American neighborhoods of greater Detroit; the red soil of the American South; the backwoods of New England. It is hard duty with a high price, as we have all learned so painfully. It is about death and lifelong debilitating wounds, about policies gone awry, about terrible mistakes and heroic, noble action. It is a duty, a burden, not to be borne by the military families alone.
You come to these ceremonies with many choices before you. Those choices must include a commitment to honor the sacrifices of those in uniform, to connect in some way to their families and to become involved in the debate on the course of national security, now and in the future.
Speaker of the House
University of San Francisco
From the beginning of our nation, that frontier has been aggressively expanded by young people, who are not wedded to old ways of thinking or daunted by the encumbrances of the past or the present.
That entrepreneurial spirit led our founders to be magnificent disrupters of the status quo. Their optimism, confidence, and hope has been passed on from one generation to the next....
At a time when some world leaders question the value of constructive dialogue with our adversaries, young people are engaged in their own international dialogue, on campuses and through e-mail and instant messaging and blogs.... They are talking about their hopes for a brighter future – of their desire for peace and prosperity.
That's what I heard in the Middle East, and that is what I hear from young people here at home. That unwillingness to accept the world as it is now – the impatience of youth – is why I have such faith in the future and in the class of 2007.
Mayor of New York
Tufts University, Medford, Mass.
The fourth lesson – in the words of Ali G – is "Respect." Don't worry, I'm not going to start quoting Borat. Respect is so important – especially in times of conflict. And I think a lot of you here know what I'm talking about.
This past December, The Primary Source – which is a campus magazine – printed some things that much of the community ardently disagreed with and many considered quite offensive. But instead of suppressing the publication (which might very well have happened on other campuses) and despite the emotion of the moment, I think the students and the faculty and all of Tufts University deserve an enormous amount of respect because you respected the rights of others to express themselves. You discussed the piece. You debated it. You picked it apart. It was a classic example of free speech versus free speech. And in that battle, I've always thought everybody wins....
I've always wondered if people who block each other from expressing their opinions do so because they have so little confidence in their own. To me, encountering an opposing point of view is a chance to gain a deeper understanding of the issues at stake ... and develop my own point of view. But the first thing you've got to do is you've got to let people speak and you've got to listen. And that's what the First Amendment is all about.
In my generation, the one word of advice you gave to graduates was "plastics." Your parents will have to explain that to you. But today, I think the one word of advice should be the word "respect."
Williams College, Williamstown, Mass.
Today, upward mobility requires constant mobility and availability. Working 9 to 5 is as obsolete as the old Dolly Parton song, and so is working for one company for 30 years, and retiring with a healthy pension and a gold watch. Between the ages of 18 and 40, the average American holds 10 different jobs.
Your generation faces a tougher environment, and tougher competition, than ever.... The challenge is to beat the investment banker from Bangalore, the software programmer from Prague, the manufacturer in Manila.... No matter how much potential you think you have, a little humility will serve you well – and help you focus on doing your best in the job you've got, rather than plotting to get the job you think you deserve.