As I look out and see the class of 2005 and your families and friends, I realize the challenge for a graduation speaker is to deal with some very different audiences.
What do I say to parents and family -- whom I know are awash with pride, nostalgia and a little glee?
My knowledge about this has changed dramatically since I experienced the college graduation of my oldest daughter, Courtney, a few years back. I remember the flood of memories I felt that day. The memories of the other milestones in my daughter’s life as she took little steps toward independence.
I remembered the day I put her on the kindergarten bus for the first time and the nervous feeling I had as the bus pulled away and I saw her little face peeking out from the bottom of the window.
And though I remained calm about so much in her life, I recalled becoming a basket case while teaching her to drive. I’ll never forget that strange mix of elation – no more chauffeur duty! -- and high anxiety I felt as I watched her drive away alone for the first time.
And it seems just like yesterday Courtney and I were standing awkwardly in the dorm parking lot. Despite the tears, I felt this tremendous excitement about the wonderful college adventure she was about to begin.
And I remember a fleeting thought about all the money I was going to save by not having to pay tuition anymore. Well, that thought was quickly erased when I received the bill for her law school tuition. And now my second daughter, Michelle, is also attending college. My husband, Mike, and I like to say that we are getting poorer by degrees!
I will be going through this process all over again in a few weeks when I attend Courtney’s graduation from law school. But this time, she really has to get a job! Right?!?
To all you parents, family and friends, I say congratulations on your role in raising and helping these fine grads. I hope that for you this is just another step in the slow process of change from being mom and dad to being best friends forever.
As far as you students are concerned, you probably think you have heard your last lecture.
You are looking forward to spending time with family and friends, and the last thing you want to hear is me launching into a speech that starts something like: as you embark on this new road of your life, you have important choices….
I’ll spare you that – for now, and give you my top five tips about life, which have been borrowed from wise philosophers.
Pearl of wisdom number one: as you leave the university today, you are now confronted with a cruel choice – work, or take a shot at landing a spot on a reality TV show. If you choose the latter, and least try and get on something classier than “Blind Date.”
Pearl of wisdom number two: as Baz Luhrman said in his spoken-word song/graduation address, “Always wear sunscreen.”
Number three: To quote the voice of the Cougars, Bob Robertson, “Always be a good sport….Be a good sport, all ways!”
Number four comes from personal experience: “never assume.” How did I learn this? Well, when I moved into the Governor’s Mansion, I just assumed the fireplaces were working. Well, my assumption was incorrect. The result was a late night visit from the Olympia Fire Department!
And number five I also learned from personal experience, “NEVER GIVE UP!”
And today do not feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life!
I congratulate the class of 2005 on what you have accomplished. I assure you the WSU degree you receive today is worth all the hard work, time, and money you invested. And it keeps getting more valuable all the time, as WSU’s reputation grows as a first-rate research university. Whether you pursue business, economics, education or nursing, we need you!
You enter a world that is as exciting, dynamic, and challenging as any I can imagine. Your degree will indeed take you anywhere you want to go.
Unlike my generation, you are leaving college to enter the “information age,” where things are moving at Internet speed. And I am talking cable modem or DSL speed.
And the pace of change is only accelerating.
It really is quite remarkable when I think about the changes that have occurred in my lifetime.
When I grew up there were three television channels -- and they were in black and white. We had typewriters and record players. And if you mentioned DVDs, PCs, IPODs, CDs, VCRs, or MTV, I would have thought you lost your mind.
A mouse was a furry little animal and a blackberry was just a piece of fruit.
And you never had to worry about what someone might find if they “Googled” you.
But while technology holds so much promise for all of you today, I use my last few moments with you to issue a warning and plea. Technology can change the way we live in remarkable ways, but it also can widen the gap between human beings.
Time spent surfing the web, shopping online, leaving voice mails and emails, playing video games, or pursuing other tech-based activities takes us out of contact with other people and removes us a little more from the human understanding that is so important today.
It is easier to listen to, and try to understand ideas that are different from our own if we know, respect, and enjoy the person who holds those ideas.
We spend a tremendous amount of time polishing up our technical skills. In reality, improving our people skills can have an even greater effect on our lives.
Too many of our problems today are the result of people not respecting or listening to other people.
I therefore ask you, members of the class of 2005, to commit to three things as you go out into the work world or pursue a higher degree.
First, commit to spending some time working in your communities. The answers to our problems today don’t rest with government. They are found in our communities, in our families, in our churches, in our service clubs, and in our volunteer organizations.
Do not underestimate the tremendous contribution you can make. Just a little time spent with a child can change his or her life.
One thing I am sure of: it is only when we give of ourselves to others that we find true meaning in our lives and create stronger communities.
My second request is that you get out and be part of the change you want to see in government. There are some fairly distressing trends: only one in three trust government to do the right thing. And almost half think state is ineffective.
I ask you to stand up and do something about this. Far too many people complain about what government does, but they don’t take the time to say what they think should done differently.
This recent legislative session provided stark evidence of what can be accomplished when people take the time to get involved. For example, a “Good Samaritan” bill I signed recently was passed due to the tenacity of three families who lost loved ones to violent crimes because witnesses did not act to help when they had the chance. A law requiring that drivers secure the stereo equipment in their vehicle was pushed by friends of a young woman who was killed by flying stereo components during a car crash. And a bill designating the Orca as the state’s official marine mammal was developed by a group of grade school students.
None of these people were heavily involved in government previously, but they saw where a change was needed, and they fought for it and got it done.
Get out there, and join in being a part of the change! You really can make a difference.
Finally, I ask you all to respect other people and their ideas. The popularity of talk radio and certain cable news programs has created an atmosphere of incivility in our public debates.
Too often today we end up in intractable situations because people won’t listen to the other side and search for common ground. No matter what your position on the matter, can anyone be happy that the fate of Terry Schiavo was decided in such a public, combative process? Did we as a nation let strong-held personal, and perhaps, political views get in the way of civil discourse?
There are no simple solutions to our nation’s problems. I suggest that whenever any of us feels we have the only answer to a problem, it is time to talk to someone on the other side of the issue and see what they have to say.
You leave Washington State University today with an outstanding education. But I hope you believe your learning has just begun and that now a very important source of learning is through other people.
Your education will take you wherever you want to go in this surging, knowledge-based economy. But remember, your education also empowers you to make our communities and society stronger and healthier, and not just make yourself financially wealthier.
Give of yourself to your community, and always respect and listen to other people – no matter how different they are from you – and you will improve your community, your job potential, and most important of all, your personal satisfaction.
It is up to us to live up to the legacy that was left for us, and to leave a legacy that is worthy of our children and of future generations.
I will end by again saying congratulations to the class of 2005 and all your family and friends.
Best of luck to all of you.
Speech provided to the Catt Center by Governor Gregoire May 2005