Posts Tagged ‘amazing’

Once in a Lifetime.

May 15, 2009

A few nights ago I, along with about sixty thousand other people, braved the 105 degree desert heat and had the unbelievable privilege of hearing our incredibly smart, eloquent and funny President speak in person at Arizona State University’s Commencement Ceremony. The hour-long trek to the stadium and through security, as well as the five hours spent waiting for the ceremony to begin, were well worth it in the end. There is a lot to be said about a man who graciously makes a compelling and beautifully executed speech to honor a university that had blatantly disrespected him. Not only that, but he took the opportunity to drive home an important message that we need to stop being satisfied with fancy titles and statuses of accomplishment, and that our personal successes are worth nothing if we don’t use them to create solutions to the global issues that our generation is to inherit. His speech is transcribed in its entirety at the Huffington Post (although they left out the joke he slipped in about how Michelle agrees that he hasn’t done enough and has a list of things to do waiting when he gets home, which everyone there loved) but here are a few highlights.

“It’s in chasing titles and status – in worrying about the next election rather than the national interest and the interests of those they represent – that politicians so often lose their way in Washington. It was in pursuit of gaudy short-term profits, and the bonuses that come with them, that so many folks lost their way on Wall Street. The leaders we revere, the businesses that last – they are not the result of narrow pursuit of popularity or personal advancement, but of devotion to some bigger purpose – the preservation of the Union or the determination to lift a country out of depression; the creation of a quality product or a commitment to your customers, your workers, your shareholders and your community.”

“That’s the spirit that led a band of patriots not much older than you to take on an empire. It’s what drove young pioneers west, and young women to reach for the ballot; what inspired a 30 year-old escaped slave to run an underground railroad to freedom, and a 26 year-old preacher to lead a bus boycott for justice. It’s what led firefighters and police officers in the prime of their lives up the stairs of those burning towers; and young people across this country to drop what they were doing and come to the aid of a flooded New Orleans. It’s what led two guys in a garage – named Hewlett and Packard – to form a company that would change the way we live and work; and what led scientists in laboratories, and novelists in coffee shops to labor in obscurity until they finally succeeded in changing the way we see the world.

That is the great American story: young people just like you, following their passions, determined to meet the times on their own terms. They weren’t doing it for the money. Their titles weren’t fancy – ex-slave, minister, student, citizen. But they changed the course of history – and so can you.

With a degree from this university, you have everything you need to get started. Did you study business? Why not help our struggling non-profits find better, more effective ways to serve folks in need. Nursing? Understaffed clinics and hospitals across this country are desperate for your help. Education? Teach in a high-need school; give a chance to kids we can’t afford to give up on – prepare them to compete for any job anywhere in the world. Engineering? Help us lead a green revolution, developing new sources of clean energy that will power our economy and preserve our planet.”

“Acts of sacrifice and decency without regard to what’s in it for you – those also create ripple effects – ones that lift up families and communities; that spread opportunity and boost our economy; that reach folks in the forgotten corners of the world who, in committed young people like you, see the true face of America: our strength, our goodness, the enduring power of our ideals. I know starting your careers in troubled times is a challenge. But it is also a privilege. Because it is moments like these that force us to try harder, to dig deeper, to discover gifts we never knew we had – to find the greatness that lies within each of us. So don’t ever shy away from that endeavor. Don’t ever stop adding to your body of work. I can promise that you will be the better for that continued effort, as will this nation that we all love. ”