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The graduates, faculty, family and friends: It’s an honor for me to be with you on this important day in your lives. I understand that the former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich spoke at last year’s commencement. By coincidence I’ve followed him at commencements several times. Bob’s a good friend and he’s authorized me to say that last year you had the shortest commencement speaker in history. This year I’m going to try to give you the shortest commencement speech in history. For five years I had the privilege of working for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. In 1998 the Governments of Britain and Ireland and most of the political parties in Northern Ireland reached an agreement that was historic and that could end centuries of conflict. In a free and open election, the people of Ireland, North and South, voted overwhelmingly in favor of that Agreement. By itself, the agreement does not guarantee peace and reconciliation. It makes them possible, even though there are many difficult decisions ahead. The making of peace is a never-ending process, as each generation struggles anew with the tension between the legacy of history and the promise of a better future. Can people who have been divided and in conflict for centuries rise above their past for the mutual benefit of a stable and prosperous future? That’s what the people of Northern Ireland are trying to do. They are working to provide the conditions in which each individual can live a full and meaningful life. That should be the goal for every society, including our own. We’re fortunate to be Americans, to live in a society which, despite its imperfections, is the most free, the most just, the most open society in all of human history. From that society, each of us receives many benefits. With benefit comes responsibility. Every person in this nation has an obligation, a positive duty, to participate actively in preserving and improving our way of life. That is especially true of those like you graduates who’ve had the good fortune to receive an advanced education. There’s much for you, for all of us to do. If you believe, as I do, that every American child is entitled to the best possible education, regardless of background or family wealth, then you must oppose any effort to deny them that opportunity. If you believe, as I do, that we have an obligation to leave for future generations the very basics of healthy human life-clean air, pure water, unpoisoned land-you must demand public policies to honor that obligation. And if you believe, as I do, that every American is entitled to equal opportunity and equal justice, you must speak out against all forms of discrimination and injustice. Never forget that in the presence of evil, silence makes you an accomplice. The education you’ve received is important, even necessary. But it is not a guarantee of self worth. It is not a substitute for a life of effort. What you do is important. How you do it is just as important. If you take pride in what you do, you will excel. If you do not take pride, you cannot excel. John Gardner put it best when he wrote: “An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.” In your lives you graduates will find that real fulfillment will come not from leisure, not from idleness, not from self-indulgence, but rather from striving with all of your physical and spiritual might for a worthwhile objective that helps others and is larger than your self-interest. I hope that each of you is fortunate enough to find such an objective in your life. Congratulations; good luck; may God bless each one of you.

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