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Text of Steve Ogden Commencement Speech
May 4, 2002
Do not take this distinction lightly, The cynics among you may be tempted to say it's no big deal. Lots of people graduate from college. But, many more people do not. You took the challenge and succeeded. Today, as most of you are crossing a major threshold in your life, savor this moment.
How are you going to realize that you have crossed a threshold and are not in college anymore? Here's my wife's top ten list:
9. You go to parties the police don't raid!
8. Beers at lunch get you reprimanded.
7. Pregnancy now brings the thought of tax deductions instead of coronaries.
6. How do you know that you are not in college anymore? Three words: student loan payments.
5. You feed your dog Science Diet instead of Taco Bell.
4. The four food groups are no longer beer, pizza, chips and cereal.
3. Your parents start making casual remarks about grandchildren.
2. You refer to college students as kids.
1. You have a good job making thousands of dollars a year- and still can't afford that dream Porsche.
On a more serious note, as you savor this moment, let me share with you some lessons I have learned.
1. Expect Change. When I graduated from college in 1973, it was widely believed that one would begin a career based on the training one received in college and that this career would be fairly predictable over a 30-to-40 year working life. This simply has not been the case. Thirty years ago it was widely believed that energy would be in short supply and expensive, nuclear power was the future, IBM didn't lay people off, a job with Sears & Roebuck guaranteed a good living for 30 years, and the Soviet Union would be America's most formidable competitor. Yet, all of this has changed.
May I suggest that you consider sometime in the next ten years the possibility of self-employment and controlling your own destiny. There can be great joy in working for yourself and, as one prospers, there is little to compare to the satisfaction of creating good jobs for decent people. Expect change.
2. Invest in America. The best way to express some confidence in the future of our country is to invest in our country. This is a piece of advice I wish I had taken seriously when I was your age. Your savings can result in substantial assets over time. For example, if your grandparents had purchased 25 shares of McDonald's stock 30 years ago, it would have cost them about $2800. Today, that stock would be worth more than $9,000. If I had invested $1,000 in Wal-Mart stock in 1973 the day I graduated from college, It would now have more than 1.4 million in stock. About ten years ago, my brother invested $2,000 in Dell Computer Corporation. Today, that investment would be worth about $120,000. With some of this money, he set up a college fund for his four children. Yet, I am not talking about investing for jackpots. I am talking about putting your money where your mouth is. My best advice is to invest in companies that you like and products that you buy and hold on to your investment for the long haul.
Finally, consider the Social Security Trust Fund may be depleted in 20 years as the people of my generation retire. I think you will be faced with serious choices as you approach retirement such as more reliance on personal savings, higher taxes for Social Security, or retirement at a later age. Invest in America.
3. Volunteer. America's greatness is reflected in the tendency of its citizens to volunteer. Little league, Girl Scouts, American Red Cross, the local school board, the city council, your church, or the Board of Regents of the Texas State University System.
The gift of self pays huge dividends. It improves the quality of life in our communities, it provides great personal satisfaction, and it changes people's lives.
I was a Little League coach for several years when my son was going through the program and, though I didn't realize it at the time, it made a difference. I have had young men stop me and talk about our common experience together and I can see in their eyes that they learned a few good lessons while we played.
I would also like you to consider volunteering for military service. Today, more than she has in the last 25 years, American needs you. If you talk to military veterans you will find that their time spent in the service was some of the most valuable and important of their lives. Our cause is just, the training you will receive is superb, and the responsibility you can acquire is simply unmatched in the civilian world. Volunteer your time.
4. Be honest in your dealings. Integrity is on the endangered species list and we need to save it. We squander too much time, waste too much energy, and spend too much money because we cannot trust each other. It is possible to live life honestly. I am not saying that you can live without ever cutting a corner or telling an untruth. But there are lies that are self-serving, that attempt to mask one's failure, or lack of effort, or hurt and cheat others, and you do not need to engage in them.
No human relationship can flourish, no human endeavor, large or small can survive without trust. It is important when you wake up every morning that you like what you see. There is real pleasure when you have won fairly, there is honor in losing when you have fought tenaciously and honestly, and there is no higher praise than to hear others say that they can trust you.
5. Take care of your families. You are familiar with the usual litany of social problems: violent crimes, divorce, illegitimacy, soaring increases in welfare spending and a general erosion of academic performance. All of these problems would be so much more manageable if we had stronger families.
But, that is not my primary point. I believe that there is no greater happiness in life than to see one's children soar and reach their potential. For example, one of the most satisfying and memorable days of your parents' and loved ones' lives is today. How many of you are the first in your family to graduate from college? Would you join me in a big round of applause for your family members who are here today.
I will predict that, as you look back on your life, you will judge its success or failure by how well your family, your children turn out. Make this your first priority.
6. Finally, stand up for principle! Ours is a nation founded on idealism and we must stand up for what we believe in. It is worth remembering that, unlike nations before us, our military has been used primarily to defend this principle: Human beings have an inalienable right to be free.
It is exactly because others have sacrificed so much for principal that we should find our courage and stand up for what we believe in. For example, as a matter of principle, I believe that we must resist the unrelenting attacks on our Judeo-Christian heritage. I believe that the moral decline of society and the disintegration of too many families are the root causes of our growing problems with crime, education, welfare, and child neglect. I believe a reaffirmation of traditional Judeo-Christian values, rather than an assault on them, is a necessary first step in solving the social and political problems we face in this state.
I also believe, that as a matter of principle, we must fight racism. Not just white racism for which I offer no excuse, but all racism. Race politics are ugly and we need to snuff it out before it engulfs us all. In my opinion, we need more honesty, more compassion, more fairness, and more respect. Our strength is in our unity not in our differences, as we have recently experienced after September 11th. This state and the people who call this state home are changing rapidly and dramatically. In order for this to change to bring a brighter future we must continue to fight for principle, fight for a society, as Michael Shoara described, where we judge you by what you do and not by who your father was. A society, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, that judges not by the color of your skin, but by the content of your character.
But, standing up for principle is not just our civic duty, it has its own rewards. Think about the person or persons you admire the most in this world and I'll bet none are pure pragmatists. Rather, I'm confident you admire them because of the principles that have governed their lives and directed their actions. Stand up for principle.
The historically unprecedented freedom our country offers you is not to guarantee your security, but to guarantee your opportunity. Thomas Edison once said that the reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls and looking like hard work. Today, I know you are not one of those people!
Accept your country's challenge. Be the leaders of your generation and an example for all of us to follow.
The novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote, "To every person their chance. To every one regardless of their birth, a shining golden opportunity, to every one the right to live, to work, to become whatever their vision can make them- this seeker is the promise of America."
I challenge you, men and women of the class of 2002, to fulfill the promise of America and become whatever your vision can make you. Expect change. Invest in America. Volunteer your time. Be honest in your dealings. Take care of your families. And, stand up for principle. May God bless you. Thank you for listening. I wish you smooth sailing and following seas.
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