It is hard to believe that another graduation weekend has passed. I've been thinking a lot about this significant event. This year I've had students graduate from a local college and one from a local graduate school.
What do you say to a generation of seniors who have been exploited by a system that is more concerned about SAT scores and grade point averages than with the content and quality of their character? It is frightening to think that we live in a world where we constantly talk about love and peace, but our actions speak more to war and hate.
Over the past few weeks, we have been bombarded with a series of tragedies involving the senseless loss of young people's lives. Two lives were lost due to drunk driving; one senior took her own life; another senior was shot in the face and a third senior was found dead in a family's living room after a night of partying.
Each tragic circumstance occurred due to reckless decision making. None of the young people involved wanted a life to be lost, but for a variety of reasons, poor choices were made that clearly took innocent lives.
As people continue to mourn the senseless loss of life, have we learned anything from their senseless passing? All life is fragile, no matter how invincible one might feel. Every choice we make has a consequence. Do we really value the relationships we share? If we do, what do we do to honor and protect those important relationships? Henry David Thoreau says that the greatest human tragedy is to reach death and realize one has never lived.
Seniors, as you continue your journey realize that being human is more important than a successful academic record. Showing compassion and understanding grounded in justice is more significant than a science formula you might have learned. These are difficult lessons to learn because they demand that you risk all that you are now for what you could become tomorrow.
Look around you. We are living in challenging times. A new radical revolution is afoot. Your generation is moving away from the indifference and complacency of yesterday and is moving toward a new idealism of freedom and responsibility. It's happening in China, Africa, Latin America and throughout Eastern Europe. Who would have ever thought that the class of 2008 would see a woman and a person of color running for the presidency of the United States of America? This change is not happening among the political elite, but among our young, our students - your peers. It gives me hope that tomorrow will be better.
These are exciting times. Advances in technology are changing our lives every day. Your generation is part of changing the political and social landscape of our world. You will have an opportunity to be a part of that process that will hopefully facilitate positive change among us.
Hopefully, the next administration that you will help to elect will be more concerned about people and their quality of life than with bureaucracies and other systems that have no regard for human life.
This past year we have been painfully reminded of the suffering and struggling of so many among us. The incidences of hate and discrimination have been alarming. The use of firearms and the reckless choices around social behavior have been deeply disturbing.
Summer vacation should not be a free for all, but rather a time to relax, recharge one's batteries and enjoy the casualness of warm summer days and good friends. It should be a time of anticipating one's future and the exciting challenges before us. Unfortunately, for a growing number of young people, it has become a time for recklessness and irresponsibility.
As you continue your journey after graduation, keep in mind these simple thoughts: may you discover enough goodness in others to believe in a world of peace. May a kind word, a reassuring touch and a warm smile be yours every day of your life. Remember the sunshine when the storm seems unending. Teach love to those who only know hate and let that love embrace you as you continue in the world.
May the teachings of those you admire become a part of you so you may call upon them. It is the content and quality of who you are that is important, not merely the academics you take or the achievements you reach.
May you not become too concerned with material matters, but instead place immeasurable value on the goodness in your heart. Find time each day to see beauty and love in the world around you. Realize that you have limitless opportunities and possibilities. What you feel you lack in one regard may be more than compensated for in another.
May you see your future as one filled with promise and possibility. Learn to view everything as a worthwhile experience. May you seek enough inner strength to determine your own worth and not be dependent on another's judgment for your accomplishments.
The future needs you. We need you to commit yourself to the larger community. We need you to be willing to risk moving out of your comfort zone. We need you to become involved in the very fabric of your local community. Volunteer for public service in the areas of the fire service and the local ambulance group. Get involved in the various civic organizations within your community. Take an active role and realize you have something substantial and valuable to contribute.
Don't be afraid to give voice to the voiceless and the injustices you see. Have the courage to challenge that which you feel is unfair or possibly do not understand. Don't fall victim to the cynicism and indifference that is infecting our world. Your voice and opinion are important and can make a significant difference. Don't join the wasteland of human potential!
May you always seek peace and justice and work to build bridges, not walls. Live a balanced life. Learn a little, think a little, dance, play - have a sense of humor. But most of all, be aware of wonder. And when you go out into the world, hold hands and stick together.
May you always feel loved.
Congratulations graduates of 2008! Thanks for making the world a better place!