Thank you, Chancellor Wiley. Chancellor, graduates, families, friends, faculty, staff, and other honored guests: I'm truly delighted to be with you today. I wish I could say it reminds me of my own graduation from law school here in 1989—but I can't.
I hardly remember that ceremony. One of my professors told us of our final papers: "Just get them in before you graduate." I took her at her word and spent the last 36 hours before graduation getting it done. By the time I got to the ceremony, I could barely keep my eyes open.
So to those of you out there whose heads are nodding or eyelids drooping, you have my total sympathy. But I'm also going to ask you to wake up, for a little while, at least, because I want you to remember this moment. Take a deep breath and think about what you've accomplished to get here. And take a moment to appreciate the friends, family, faculty, and staff who helped you along the way.
And remember, but don't dwell on, all the others—the ones I call the naysayers, the cynics, and the keepers of the status quo. The ones who told you "you'd never make it," "you'll never get into college," or, once you got here, "you'll never get through that course" or "you'll never graduate." Now they're probably saying, "Stop dreaming, you'll never get that job or into that graduate program."
Well, I've got some brief words of advice—but I can't say them in public—so I'll just say: Ignore Them! You can't imagine how many times in my political career, I was told, often by well-meaning friends, "you can't, you shouldn't" or "you won't."
You need only look at my career to realize that the naysayers and the cynics don't determine your future—you do. And this is true whether you're twelve or twenty or turning gray.
Now, I know it can be bittersweet to walk around campus in your final days as a student here.
I grew up on this campus—my grandfather was on the faculty, my grandmother was on staff, and my mother and father were undergrads when I was born.
To this day, I can't drive by the building that housed my grandfather's lab without remembering the chalkboard in his office on which, when my pre-school peers were learning to draw stick figures, I was learning to draw mitochondria.
Each time I'm near the Union theater, I can picture the costume shop backstage where my grandmother taught me that if you spray paint gum balls white and string them on a sturdy thread, you can make a pretty economical string of pearls. No kidding!
And I can't walk through the library mall without remembering how my mother took me to rallies there, teaching me that you're never too young to speak your mind and be politically active.
Each of you has a personal set of memories that you'll take from this magical place.
But along with those memories, and the diploma, you will carry something even more precious. It's called the Wisconsin Idea. And you are the emissary and the legacy of this idea.
Among all the states, Wisconsin stands alone in its claim to an idea that, like a torch, is passed from generation to generation. In simple terms, the Wisconsin Idea is often explained by saying, "the boundaries of the University are the boundaries of the state."
Thanks to the Wisconsin Idea, small family farmers in Wisconsin directly benefit from cutting-edge research on this campus that helps their crops and livestock thrive, boosting not just the state's economy, but its reputation in the world.
Thanks to the Wisconsin Idea, we set an example for the nation in our attention to conservation of our natural resources.
Thanks to the Wisconsin Idea, the evolving technology of first radio, then television, and now the Internet, was harnessed for educational purposes, bringing learning opportunities to remote areas of the state.
Thanks to the Wisconsin Idea, the Social Security Act of 1935 assured that no senior citizen would ever again face retirement in abject poverty and that no child would suffer that fate when a parent dies.
Thanks to the Wisconsin Idea, Wisconsin businesses have as consultants, all the brainpower of our University system. And researchers and patients around the world are benefiting from the bio-medical achievements of our scientists.
It was the Wisconsin Idea that inspired Theodore Roosevelt to write, "in no other state in the union has any university done the same work for the community that has been done in Wisconsin by the University of Wisconsin.
The statesman Adlai Stevenson said this Idea "meant a faith in the application of intelligence and reason to the problems of society."
Also accurate, and appropriately for Adlai Stevenson, more intellectual. But let's think about this grand idea in more personal terms. How can one person—how can each of you embody the Wisconsin Idea? And you must, because, "If you wanna be a Badger," it's not enough to put on a red shirt and cheer at the football games. If you wanna be a Badger, you'll wear The Wisconsin Idea on your sleeve and make the time you spent here count for something;
Use what you've learned here to better the lives of, not just you and your family, but of all of our families, our communities, our nation, our world—through the sciences, arts, and industries that you've studied.
Which doesn't mean you have to win a Nobel Prize—or a Pulitzer—or an Oscar (though Mom and Dad wouldn't mind putting one of those on the mantel). It just means use what you learned here to help make our world a better place.
Not everyone who does amazing things is on the cover of Newsweek or on Larry King Live.
UW-Madison grads, just like you, are working in laboratories growing stem cells that may lead to treatments and cures for some of our most catastrophic medical problems.
UW grads are in a shop in Waterloo, Wisconsin building the bicycles that may lead Lance Armstrong and his teammates to their next Tour de France victory.
UW grads are not only singing and dancing on Broadway, but teaching and inspiring youngsters to reach their own potential.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is a public institution - which means that every taxpaying resident of this state pitched in a few dollars to help fund your education. Fortunately for you, we weren't there reminding you to pick up your clothes, cut your hair, study harder, or call us every week—but we were helping support you, and we were rooting for you.
And now that you're graduating, we're counting on you. We are counting on you to take risks, dream big dreams, and not let the naysayers rob you of your ambitions. We are counting on you to embody the Wisconsin Idea and use your knowledge for the common good.
As a commencement speaker, it's my duty to send you off into the world with some sage advice and encouragement, and that's something we could all use more of these days.
Especially when we see how volatile the world has become and how quickly situations at home and around the world can change. But change is inevitable!
You don't need a Member of Congress to tell you that we, as a nation, are facing challenges most of us never imagined. You are the post-September 11th generation and the future is uncertain.
Today, in the 21st century, our reach is so much more expansive, and our relationships so much more global, that the Wisconsin Idea extends far beyond the boundary lines of our state map. But it still connects us: person to person, generation to generation.
So on behalf of the people of the state of Wisconsin, I join your family, friends, and teachers in honoring you on your graduation.
And while our investment in your education will now pass to a new class of students, we'll never stop rooting for you.
Neither the Catt Center nor Iowa State University is affiliated with any individual in the Archives or any political party. Inclusion in the Archives is not an endorsement by the center or the university.