Nancy Kassebaum Baker

Kansas State University Commencement Address - May 15, 2015

Nancy Kassebaum Baker
May 15, 2016— Manhattan, Kansas
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Former U.S. Senator from Kansas, Nancy Kassebaum Baker, delivered the commencement speech at the Kansas State University Graduate School commencement ceremony. Baker's speech begins at 46:30 in the video.

Thank you, President Schulz, thank you, Provost Mason, and thank you Dean Shanklin.

Distinguished platform members, proud parents and family, and special graduates of the class of 2015. You worked hard to get your degrees today. I'm riding—and proud to be riding—on your coattails in the class of 2015.

I suppose it would be best just to say—after all of the video and so forth—I should just say "thank you" and sit down. And that you probably wish. But when you ask someone to be a commencement speaker, it's very tempting to try and go on a little bit.

We are now in a new era, where many forces have combined to produce unprecedented progress and unacceptable uncertainty. We are immediately connected worldwide as never before. It's amazing how one can Skype around the world.

Informed, but perhaps less understanding. It is difficult to gain perspective on the vast array of the crises occurring on social media. Faced with a bewildering array of actions and reactions, we find it difficult if not impossible to discern what is truly important, which if any of the changes occurring around us are fundamental and which are superficial.

President Eisenhower—whose presidential library, as you know, is just down the road—in his farewell address in 1958 [sic; 1961], gave advice which I believe is equally fitting today. And just to quote from one part of it—and the whole address is very significant:

Balance in and among national programs…balance between action of the moment and national welfare of the future. Good judgement seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds violence and frustration. We should be seeking balance for a changing world order.

I would like to briefly mention several issues which I believe have a common thread through them. Whether we are debating the possibility of a nuclear agreement with Iran, sending more troops into the Middle East, fighting extremist ideology in all of its cruel and brutal guises, the growing presence of China in the South China Sea, or the dominant posture of President Putin in Russia.

We need to comprehend and debate with a degree of knowledge about that of which we speak. The answer does not lie in social media, or gained in 60-second sound bites. It really lies within ourselves.

Too often we delight in polarizing our differences without much thought in the way that message sounds to the rest of the world.

Health care. Do we trust the insurance companies, the doctors, our own family and friends—certainly not the government, even though we forget where Medicare and Medicaid come from.

There does seem to have been vociferous disagreement with President Obama. However, to just reject and say no does not solve the problem. With rapidly changing demographics and costs, this is an enormously important topic which requires the objective analysis and a willingness of Congress to spend the time to address the changes that can be made to improve the Affordable Care Act.

Education and trust provide the thread that helps us answer complex questions and the demands that are on each of us citizens. We have a responsibility to be participants in government at all levels—local, state and federal.

One of the most difficult—because I served on a rural school board—is probably school boards. But school boards, county commissions, city commissions all make a difference and it starts within our communities, it starts with where we live. It start where we're willing to engage ourselves and to vote.

We will never agree on all issues, nor should be. But we can respect and understand through informed decisions the appreciation of trust. So often people say, "Well, I don't trust them. I don't know who to trust." Know that then is the time we need to be involved.

We can earn trust and we must always respect.

Education is a valued part of helping us to achieve our goals and our knowledge of the world around us.

I'm not going to speak to what kinds of tests we should have, how we should teach. I do know that we all here probably remember a teacher who was special in our years in school. I usually was somewhat fearful of one teach I had for English, but she demanded and she was dedicated, and I always respected her, even though I frequently didn't get a very good grade.

Teachers are our true public servants and they deserve the recognition and support. Salute to the teachers here who will be guiding us and helping us learn for the future.

You know, it is…. Ten years from now, at the pace we're going today, the world will have changed beyond our present recognition. It is very difficult for me to realize, we already have cars that drive themselves, robots assisting doctors, artificial intelligence may be around the corner. New medicines, new challenges, and our most fervent hope for a world that's more peaceful. It's very reassuring to me that our basic values will remain the same.

I would like to close with some lines from Sophocles' great and tragic play, Antigone. I would love to be able to talk more about it, but I know you don't want to hear a lengthy discussion. But just if I may close:

Do not have one mind and one alone that only your opinion can be right. A man, though wise, should never be ashamed of learning more and must unbend his mind.

I know my own children probably thought I never would unbend my mind, but I do think it's something to be mindful of as you face the future. It is a challenging time. But I am confident that you know how to provide the leadership necessary, and I have great confidence the future will be in good hands with the graduates we have today.

With my congratulations and warmest best wishes always, it's a great class and I'm proud to be a part of it.

Thank you.

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