Barack’s Commencement Address at Wesleyan

Posted: May 25th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: apple, obama, youtube | No Comments »

I like that in US universities there are these commencement addresses, where notable people talk to students. 

Now Barack Obama, filling in for Ted Kennedy, made a commencement address to Wesleyan University graduating students. Some highlights:

Each of you will have the chance to make your own discovery in the years to come.  And I say “chance” because you won’t have to take it.  There’s no community service requirement in the real world; no one forcing you to care.  You can take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should by.  You can choose to narrow your concerns and live your life in a way that tries to keep your story separate from America’s. 

But I hope you don’t.  Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, though you do have that obligation.  Not because you have a debt to all those who helped you get here, though you do have that debt. 

It’s because you have an obligation to yourself.  Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation.  Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition.  Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role you’ll play in writing the next great chapter in America’s story.

There is more:

We will face our share of cynics and doubters.  But we always have.  I can still remember a conversation I had with an older man all those years ago just before I left for Chicago.  He said, “Barack, I’ll give you a bit of advice.  Forget this community organizing business and do something that’s gonna make you some money.  You can’t change the world, and people won’t appreciate you trying.  But you’ve got a nice voice, so you should think about going into television broadcasting.  I’m telling you, you’ve got a future.”

Now, he may have been right about the TV thing, but he was wrong about everything else.  For that old man has not seen what I have seen.  He has not seen the faces of ordinary people the first time they clear a vacant lot or build a new playground or force an unresponsive leader to provide services to their community.  He has not seen the face of a child brighten because of an inspiring teacher or mentor.  He has not seen scores of young people educate their parents on issues like Darfur, or mobilize the conscience of a nation around the challenge of climate change.  He has not seen lines of men and women that wrap around schools and churches, that stretch block after block just so they could make their voices heard, many for the very first time. 

Here is the full video:


P.S. There was another commencement address I liked a lot and tried to heed to. Apple CEO Steve Jobs had a commencement address at Stanford in 2005 where he talked about his struggle with cancer, what drives him, etc:

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