Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for that wonderful, warm welcome. And thank you, Dr. Williams for your very kind words of introduction.
What a privilege it is to be with you today on the beautiful campus of Greensboro College! Dr. Williams, you are truly shaping our future as you oversee the education of nearly 1,300 students.
And Senior Class President Cherilyn Strader, you were selected by your peers because of your outstanding leadership. Thank you for your commitment to Greensboro College.
And thank you to the Board of Trustees, administrators, faculty and staff for the excellent job you do preparing students for the exciting road ahead.
How well I remember the day I earned my undergraduate degree at Duke University. There I was sitting with my classmates, excited and exhausted, thrilled to be finally getting my diploma, rustling in my seat in my cap and gown, wondering who on earth schedules graduation ceremonies so early in the morning…and of course, with that big, important question running through my thoughts, a question I'm sure every one of you is quietly pondering right this moment: "Just how long is this commencement speech going to be?"
I'm reminded of the history teacher asking a group of children if anyone had heard of Caesar. A little girl raised her hand and said, "Certainly, I know who Caesar is." "Well, what do you know about him?" asked the teacher. The little girl sat up straight in her chair and said proudly, "Well, he lived a really, really long time ago. And he was really, really important. And he gave really, really long speeches. So they killed him." But seriously, ladies and gentlemen, I do hope to make some friends here today, so I will be brief—and speak directly from my heart.
As we gather on Mother's Day, I can think of no better time to recognize the contributions of all the precious mothers and fathers and other family members who are here today…who have supported and loved and encouraged these graduates…who have written big checks without hesitation…who have dreamed of this moment for so many years.
And graduates, as a thank-you to your parents for all the sacrifices they have made while you have been at Greensboro College, maybe you can treat them to lunch at Natty Greene's!
And parents, I hope you will feel great pride today in the strength you have instilled in your sons and daughters—in the character that is behind their success. You must certainly find this joyful day tinged with a bit of sadness as you launch your child into the world. But rest assured, you will always - - always - - remain very important in their lives.
It is certainly a joy to be able to honor and celebrate the achievements of the Class of 2007! This is the day when your years of hard work, determination and perseverance are rewarded.
You have earned a degree from a highly respected institution steeped in nearly 170 years of rich history and tradition. You are graduating from a very close-knit community where you are truly considered family, a place that not only encourages academic and athletic success but, most importantly, spiritual growth. Coming out of Greensboro College, you are well-trained and well-equipped to take the world by storm - - and make a difference - - a positive difference, everywhere you go.
I've witnessed firsthand the outstanding contributions Greensboro College alumni give back to society—contributions from folks like my very talented U.S. Senate State Director, Margaret Kluttz, who is here with us today. And graduates, no matter what path in life you choose—and the choices are endless!—you will help to write the pages of history through your actions.
My strongest advice is to find that about which you are truly passionate, that which infuses you with a sense of mission. When your heart is truly in it, it drives you forward and because you are passionate about achieving your goals, the sky will be the limit!
As Mark Twain said so eloquently, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
Now, I know that many of you may be thinking, "But Elizabeth Dole doesn't know me. She doesn't know the difficulties I've overcome in passing certain classes, or the problems I've encountered in working two jobs to put myself through school. She certainly does not have a clue as to the challenges I've faced in the last few months trying to find a job in an extremely competitive market." Well graduates, while I may not know your individual circumstances, I do know what it is like to face hard challenges.
It was indeed an honor and a privilege to be elected as the first female United States Senator from our great state of North Carolina. But over the years, I had many obstacles to overcome. Perhaps the biggest change I have witnessed during my career is the role of women -- both in government and in the private sector.
I can still vividly recall my first day of class at law school. I was one of 24 women in a class of 550. And a male student came up to me and said, in tones that can only be described as moral outrage, "Elizabeth, what are you doing here? What are you doing here? Don't you realize there are men who would give their right arm to be in this law school—men who would use their legal education?" Those were the very first words I heard in law school. That man is now a senior partner in a very prestigious Washington law firm. And every so often I tell that little story around town. In fact, I love to tell that story! And you'd be amazed at the number of my male classmates in high-powered Washington law firms who've called me to say, "Tell me I'm not the one. Tell me I didn't say that, Elizabeth!"
I hope you graduates will place no boundaries on your goals and aspirations. I believe one's dreams are limited only by one's imagination—not by the hurdles encountered along the way. I love the motto of my husband's home state of Kansas: "To the stars through difficulties." From adversity comes strong character.
And speaking of character, it has been said the best exercise for strengthening the heart is reaching down and lifting people up. My greatest hope is that whatever path you choose in life, your mission will always be to give back—to volunteer, to share your talents to make our world a better place. For me the most rewarding times in my public service career have not been at Washington power lunches exchanging political gossip. No, the most rewarding times for me have been in classrooms helping at-risk youth and teen mothers who were turning their lives around. The most rewarding times have been supporting Meals on Wheels volunteers as they worked to make sure their ill or elderly neighbors had warm, nutritious meals.
Through my years, especially in my time with the American Red Cross, I witnessed enormous devastation unleashed by Mother Nature and through man-made disasters like the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech. And I've been constantly inspired by people willing to cross town, or even cross the globe to help folks they've never met and will never see again. My mother—who lived to be 102 years old and has always been a source of great inspiration—once told me of her own experiences as a Red Cross volunteer during World War II. "Elizabeth," she said, "Nothing I ever did made me feel so important."
Graduates, when you are in your golden years looking back over your lives, my belief is it won't be the cars you drove or the titles you held or the awards you were given that will matter most. No, it's character, integrity, a caring heart and compassionate concern for your fellow man that will count for so much more than any bank balance, any resume—and yes, any college diploma. I pray that each of you will be able to say "I used my God-given talents to make that difference—that positive difference for others. I reached and stretched to the very limits of my being, and, indeed, I dared to explore, to dream and to discover.
My heartiest congratulations to the Class of 2007! May God bless each and every one of you, your families, this wonderful college, and this great land of the free—America!