Speech at the T.S. Wootton High School Commencement

Washington, D.C. | June 11, 1998

I challenge each and every one of you, members of the Class of '98, to become ethical global citizens because that is what we all must try to become.

The invitation sent to me by the Class of '98 said they "had to decide if they were looking for someone outspoken and humorous, -- or for someone insightful and poignant" to give their graduation address." In the end, they explained, they decided "they didn't want those characteristics in their speaker." They didn't want someone "outspoken or humorous, or insightful or poignant."

So, they chose me! (pause)

But then they paid me the ultimate compliment.

They said they "wanted a speaker whose goals and ideals best embodied the "spirit of Wootton," someone who believed in "diligence and responsibility." Inspired by that compliment and challenge, I accepted the invitation because it is truly an honor to speak to persons like yourselves who believe in "diligence and responsibility." Those words may not be glamorous or humorous, but they tell me you are wise, down-to-earth, and fully aware that you, and all Americans today are facing the greatest challenges and opportunities ever given to any nation or people. No men or women in any country at any time in history have ever faced "challenges and opportunities" equal to those open before you.

So-o-o, I challenge each and every one of you, members of the Class of '98, to become "ethical global citizens" because that is what we all must try to become. I suggest we can all succeed in becoming "ethical global citizens" if we will just "break our mirrors." Stop looking at ourselves all the time .. stop thinking about ourselves all the time .. stop planning our futures all the time. Look less at ourselves, and more at one another, -- look at our fellow citizens in the USA. Look especially at those fellow citizens whose skin is black, or yellow, or red, or brown, and say to them: -- …"We pledge to you" our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor" .. .

Those are words you will recognize from our Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson wrote those words and believed them. So did the fifty-six men who signed that declaration and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for the fulfillment of those Revolutionary objectives. By their vision and courage they created in our country the most successful political, economic, and egalitarian system in world history. They would be shocked today to see that practically no one in the USA is ready today to pledge their lives, their fortunes, or their sacred honor to anything or anyone, not even to our own racial minorities or to our own hungry millions longing to be free.

Instead, we concentrate on building our own private fortunes, shielding them as best we can from taxation, - and certainly giving little or no evidence that we, - all of us - - are ready to pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor, without any reservations, to the USA and to all our fellow citizens of all races, creeds, colors.

Fortunately, many of you have already demonstrated a willingness to follow Jefferson's call. You have taken advantage of the community service programs at Wootton High.

One of those programs is "Best Buddies," started by a young student when he was a Junior at Georgetown University. Its concept is pretty simple. Put together a college student with a person with mental retardation and get them to do things together. That was ten years ago!

Today, "Best Buddies" has 10,000 participants enrolled in the United States, Canada and Greece. All of this began with one idea, from one person! The idea of "Best Buddies" challenged everyone who is self-centered to become other-centered, not self-centered . . . to believe in something or someone in life beyond your own narrow interests, and believe in that thing or person or both so fervently that you will stand up for it or for him or her till the end of your days. Now, that brings up a most profound question and challenge: - - - In what do you believe? Allow me to challenge you, not to think of what you will do, nor where you will go.

More important is the question, - - In what will you believe?

Martin Luther King defined for America and the world the power of belief in the simple idea of equality. He brought that vision to reality in the villages and cities of our country. Now, you must enter the future with your own beliefs - - - beliefs for which you are willing to give your lives! Be you doctors or lawyers, teachers or technicians, parents or politicians, you must challenge the world with images and actions that jar the comfortable, make the complex simple, nurture the family, and bring justice to all the people in our country. And in every corner of the world!

I, for my part, hope you will think, hope, and believe in the universal need for peace. Let peace be the new metaphor for your times. We have just experienced a century of the worst wars and devastations in history. We have killed more human beings in the 20th Century than in any period of history. So I hope your actions and successes will establish the 21st Century as "The Century of Peace."

You do not have to know in advance exactly how to wage peace. We certainly did not know exactly how to organize and lead the Peace Corps. None of us knew what a Peace Corps was, specifically, or even if it would work.

Young and enthusiastic Volunteers plunged into a world of languages we did not understand and people whose customs were totally unknown and foreign to us. They made the Peace Corps a success. We managed to create a precious moment and a new reality in history. Yet, today, the Peace Corps should be at least triple its current size. Maybe you, the Class of '98, can be leaders in a national effort to allocate more money for peace through the Peace Corps rather than the colossal expenditures we now waste in arming poverty-stricken nations with lethal weapons. Bring peace to our communities at home, too. Dedication and extra efforts are needed to triple the Job Corps, a proven success in training for the future, tens of thousands of young men and women. Volunteer to help the Job Corps! Agitate for its enlargement! You will be helping to make taxpayers out of tax-eaters, rooting out drugs and corruption in the process. You won't get rich, dollar-wise, working for the Job Corps, but you will be rebuilding America and making great cities safe for democracy. That chance is yours! Peace comes also from those who serve the least among us!

Special Olympics has convinced me of that truth.

In 30 years, Special Olympics has expanded from its start with 1,200 athletes in , Chicago, to 1,200,000 athletes, all with mental retardation, in 145 countries! No private philanthropy has grown so fast and so effectively in the entire 20th Century. Never before in the history of the world has there been any comprehensive program for persons with mental retardation! There are now 175,000,000 human beings on earth afflicted with mental retardation. Yet with one-hundredth the money spent on armaments and war, Special Olympics is effecting sociological and psychological "cures" for mental retardation, and in the process changing the minds and hearts of millions and millions of our fellow human beings everywhere! Yes, everywhere! In the next ten years Special Olympics will reach all the countries on earth, and enroll some 3,000,000 athletes. It may become the largest athletic program on earth by the year 2,020 AD. All of you in the Class of '98 will see Special Olympics with 3,000,000 maybe even 4,000,000 athletes, - - all participating in a program invented by a young woman right here in Maryland, in Rockville, to be exact! And the first volunteers at her camps who worked with the persons with mental retardation were high school students!

All of Special Olympics costs less than one-hundredth of the cost of one nuclear submarine! That submarine will be useless in fifty years, even if it's necessary today! But, athletes in Special Olympics today will be contributors to "A Peaceful Society," worldwide, into the second half of the 21st Century. They will open all human hearts. They will help to perfect all human society.

If one American woman could "invent" Special Olympics, if one American college student could "invent" "Best Buddies," what's to stop you, the Class of '98 from exceeding their accomplishments? What is needed to do just that?

An open mind, a new spirit, an uninhibited personality, a heart sensitive to the needs of the least of our brothers and sisters, and children, and the strength to follow your own vision, - - not selfishly, for yourself, but for and with others! There is no need to put this off until you graduate from college.

Each of you is called on to be a peacemaker. No calling is higher, no calling is more needed. You are called to be peacemakers in your families, - in your neighborhood and in your workplace. If we want to get lethal weapons out of the world, first we must get them out of our own hearts. We must not wait for so-called "leaders" to improve society. All of history's great changes - - - non-violent changes - - - have come from below, not from above. It comes from us . . . from you. Where do these suggestions and thoughts leave us today?

From my own life, I can tell you only a few things.

The first thing I have learned is this: --

It is not what you get out of life that counts. It is what you put into life. It's what you give from your heart and what is given to you from on high.

I have been blessed with many chances to lead and participate in some of the great events and peace initiatives in this Century.

I mentioned the Peace Corps, the Job Corps and Special Olympics. There were others, - - - VISTA, Foster Grandparents, Indian and Migrant Opportunities, The Catholic Inter-Racial Council, and Head Start.

But, now, your chance is to move peace away from the sideshow to center stage, - - - to make peace not an issue, but the issue - - - to harness for your family, your community, and your world, the power of peace!


Let me repeat: - - When you get to thirty, forty, fifty, or even seventy years old, you'll get more happiness and contentment out of counting your friends than counting your dollars.

You'll get more satisfaction from having improved your neighborhood, your town, your state, your country, and your fellow human beings, than you will ever get from your muscles, your figure, your automobile, your house, or your credit rating. I hope you will believe in altruistic ambitions 'tit you die. I hope you remember to be guided by beliefs powerful enough to change the world. I hope you remember the example of the Peace Corps Volunteer, the "Best Buddy," the Head Start parent, the Special Olympics Athlete. Each of them is waging peace. I hope you start today - —

So- o - o: - - -

"Break your mirrors"

"Forget your own self"

"Live for those who need you most"

"Trust in God"

"Pray to Him and you will never be a loser."