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Text of Congressman Jim Turner Commencement Speech
Aug. 10, 2002
With our two children, Ginny and I have been through two undergraduate ceremonies, one graduate ceremony with one more yet to come. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a family member succeed.
As I prepared my remarks for this occasion, I was suddenly humbled by the thought that I can't recall one word my college commencement speaker said. In fact, I don't even remember who my commencement speaker was. But a few things I do remember:
Graduation always opens a new chapter in our lives. We call it commencement because it is a beginning. What is behind is just memories. What matters now is the future. Your experience of closing one chapter while starting another is what all Americans have experienced over the past year. On September 11, a chapter in our nation's history ended and a new one began. Together, all Americans now face an age much different than anything we have previously known.
Your world is more challenging than the world faced by any previous generation. Over the past year, we have witnessed the collapse of the towers of the World Trade Center by Al Qaeda terrorists and the downward spiral of the stock market fueled by corporate greed.
These events have shaken our security as a nation and have changed our view of the world and our role in it.
Prior to September 11th, we never heard much about Al Qaeda or the Taliban. The bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in the year 2000 were news items we noticed, but they had little impact on our personal lives.
Then, at a quarter to nine on the morning of September 11th, we witnessed on our television screens two planes crash into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, followed by one plane crashing into the side of the Pentagon in Washington, and a fourth crashing into the Pennsylvania landscape after heroic passengers stormed the hijackers.
I will never forget that day as my staff and I joined hundreds of people evacuating the Capitol Building and surrounding office buildings. We did not know then that the evacuation was called because the plane over Pennsylvania had turned and was headed back to Washington.
That evening, I stood on the steps of our Capitol and joined my colleagues in singing God Bless America. Never has our nation been as united and never has our resolve been as strong. That spirit is still present today and I know you feel as I do - I've never been prouder to be an American.
I know you will never forget where you were that day, nor will you forget what you felt. In our hearts we all knew something very fundamental had changed. Congressman Tom Lantos, a survivor of the Holocaust, said the age of frivolity ended on September 11th. No longer could we take our safety and security for granted. The enemy had taken almost 3,000 lives - the largest toll on a single day in America's history since the Battle of Antietam in the Civil War.
We became acutely aware that day of the hatred that exists in some parts of the world for America. We saw an enemy that claimed eternal rewards for the taking of innocent life and the sacrifice of his own. An enemy driven by a blind fanaticism we had not seen before.
We struggle to find an explanation for the terrorists' actions, as well as the hatred and violence they foster in the name of their religion. Why do they call us infidels and enemies of their God? Our very freedoms and liberties they see as contrary to the teachings of Islamic law.
We stand in confusion as we seek to understand how the most freedom-loving, most powerful and most prosperous nation on earth could be the target of such hatred and disdain. Our nation, that had always been the preferred destination of those fleeing oppression and seeking opportunity for a better life, now found itself under attack.
This is the world in which you will live for many years to come. Ensuring a secure future will require your commitment and your dedication to the cause of freedom and peace, for the sake of your children as well as all children around the world.
Some of you will fight this battle close range as members of our armed forces. But all of us must be willing to sacrifice in order to prevail. Americans have faced great challenges before, and that same dedication to duty, honor, and country will see us to victory again.
Our greatness as a people has always been rooted in our faith in God, our commitment to right over wrong and our willingness to sacrifice in the fight for freedom and liberty. The engine of free enterprise has fueled our economy and given us the highest standard of living in the world.
To preserve our security, we must pursue justice above inequity, understanding above prejudice, cooperation above partisanship, and hope above cynicism.
To preserve our prosperity, we must choose corporate responsibility over personal gain. When executives in some of the largest publicly held corporations in America put greed over the interests of their shareholders and employees, they also attacked American values and threatened our free enterprise system.
Many Americans - unemployed workers, shell-shocked investors, and worried pensioners - have suffered because of the greed of a few. The lure of stock options and exorbitant compensation clouded the judgment of corporate executives and blinded them to the corrupt practices of creative accounting.
This is the world you have entered with all its uncertainties and challenges. This is the world you must change for the better. And it must begin within you, through your realization that you must be a part of the solution. The task will require courage and discipline. It will require an adherence to principle and the ability to discern right from wrong in your personal and public life. If there is one word I would like for you to remember from your graduation, it is the word "trust".
At its heart, democracy and our system of free enterprise is based on trust. Trust must exist in order for families to be stable, laws to be obeyed and commerce to flow. You must build that trust with your family members, your business associates and your community. Every time you deal honestly in your relationships, every time you give of yourself to help someone else, you build a bond of trust.
Our nation must build this same trust with other nations around the world if we expect them to join us in the war on terrorism. Whether in personal relations or international relations, trust is a predicate to cooperation, and cooperation is essential to success.
The same spirit that enabled America to survive the Great Depression and two great wars is still alive and well today. You are the beneficiaries of the sacrifices of those who have gone before us. I am confident you will overcome the challenges of today, and tomorrow we will once again know that America is strong and secure.
May God bless the Class of 2002, and may God bless America.
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