Congratulations to the graduating classes of 2012: kindergartners, eighth-graders and seniors of all kinds. For most of you, this will be the Summer of Advice – graduation speeches, parental lectures and whispered confidences. Everyone is plotting your future.
All too soon the World will insinuate itself into your dreams and ambitions, and your main job will be to make peace with it. You will never own the world, but don’t let the world own you. Beware pf distractions, cravings, obsessions or boredom.
The speech of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower as he departed the White House in 1961 almost eerily describes the world you are inheriting: “America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment. …This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry … is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We … must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. … The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. … The free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. … In holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.”
We have every confidence that you, this new cadre of graduates, will be up to living in this world. Through a barrage of Internet chatter and cell phone din come snatches of conversation from minds far greater than ours. Their advice about being your own person and finding your own path is both timely and timeless.
From Bob Dylan, in whose world we are all said to live: “May your hands always be busy; may your feet always be swift. May you find a firm foundation when the winds of changes shift.”
From the mathematician, philosopher and writer Charles Dodgson (pseudonym Lewis Carroll): “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.”
From a beloved Chinese proverb: “When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one and a lily with the other.”
From Mahatma Gandhi, leader in passive non-violence: “The future depends upon what we do in the present.”
From poet Maya Angelou: “The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change.”
From Gabriel García Márquez: “”What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”
From Dr. Martin Luther King, venerable civil rights leader: “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
And finally, from poet Shel Silverstein:
“Oh, if you’re a bird, be an early bird … But if you’re a worm, sleep late.”