I must say, before I get to my remarks, that I have attended and spoke at literally hundreds of graduations, but I have never heard a musical presentation like the one I heard tonight. I thank you.
After extensive briefing, reviewing the issues in depth, and great soul searching, I have arrived at what I think is the most responsible position. Whatever you did on Senior Skip Day, I don’t want to know about it. But here is one thing I do know. In a world that doesn’t do much to instill pride, I hope every one of you graduates takes real pride in what you have accomplished. I hope you believe, as I do, that in some form, at some level, we are our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers.
The years you face ahead are not just about earning a living. More important, they are about creating a life worth living. You have earned the right to help shape this society that you want to live in. You have an obligation to do so. I understand that you might not want to hear that tonight. Why should you take on other people’s problems? After all, you just scaled the cliff for your high school diploma, and from up here, you may be ready enjoy the view for a while. That is fair. Look back, take pride at having come this far but then look ahead and ask, what’s next?
Graduating today is an important step in your lives. You leave here with more power than you had coming in. To my mind, power comes with responsibilities. One of those is to use your education and training to better our common situation. Whatever directions your lives take as you move from here, I urge you to take your principles seriously because that means taking yourselves seriously. If your education here and beyond is to mean anything, it is because it helps you do your share. It helps you to think about and act for those beyond yourselves. Just about everyone talks about the ideals of fairness, justice, and compassion but just how many of us actually do anything to foster those principles? My challenge to you tonight is to make those more than empty words. Take them as your own. Use your skills and training to transform the ground rules of our society.
I hope some of you will use it to improve the institutions in government that shape our lives. Too often we disengage from our fellow citizens, turn our backs on the political process, and don’t even vote. But when we choose to let someone else run for the school board or the city council, we abdicate our social responsibilities, and our communities and our country are the worse for it. Don’t count on someone else. Get involved yourselves because if you don’t, someone else will create the world for you. And guess what? You are going to have to live in it.
New answers for a new time come from you. Any school whose Red Raiders were state football champs two years in a row and whose band appeared not only once on Letterman but got invited back, well, I think they may have something to teach for that excellence. Any class that raised so much money to benefit others has something to teach about heart.
It’s your turn to do better than we did. Give us some new answers. A whole new set of problems is now taking their place alongside those we have not yet solved. Maybe somebody in the Jamestown High School Class of '98 will figure out how we can all avoid waking up on January 1, 2000 with our computers saying welcome to the year 1900 or how to make sure every American child can read, or what it would take to stop acid rain that is killing our forests, or how we can cure HIV so the Jamestown High School Class of 2008 won’t have to raise money to fight AIDS. Who knows, some of those new answers may have started in conversations down in Potter’s Terrace. Maybe just one of them will change how we all live.
But one thing I know, we can’t do it without you. We need your skills and we need them badly. As I see it, the 307 members of the Class of '98 have a choice. You can help carry us to a future better than the present or you can leave us right where we are. That is where your power lies. I hope you will not succumb to the temptation to separate yourself apart from the suffering and need of those around you. In the end, our notion of community is integral to our notion of humanity. Let’s face it, at one minute after midnight on January 1, 2000, no matter what the computers say, we start a new millennium together. What we do with it, what it looks like will be up to you. The ball is in your court, Red Raiders. Don’t miss your shot. Good luck and God bless.
Speech from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYDBvRa-lN4.