July 12, 1999 - Eleanor Roosevelt College: ERC Commencement Address by Mark Gearan July 12, 1999

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Directors of the Peace Corps: Mark D. Gearan: August 11, 1995-August 11, 1999 : Gearan: July 12, 1999 - Eleanor Roosevelt College: ERC Commencement Address by Mark Gearan July 12, 1999

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ERC Commencement Address by Mark Gearan July 12, 1999

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ERC Commencement Address by Mark Gearan July 12, 1999*

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ERC Commencement Address by Mark Gearan July 12, 1999

Provost Craig, Chancellor Dynes, Dean Scott, Joan, members of the administration and faculty, distinguished guests, graduates, parents, and friends. I am honored by this opportunity to address the Eleanor Roosevelt College Class of 1999 and to convey my warmest congratulations to you on this important day.

I know that the graduates are eager to get on with the ceremonies. Rest assured that I intend to be brief. I was raised in a Catholic home and taught to pay attention and try to do whatever priests tell me. I promise to keep in mind the sage advice of one wise priest, who said, "Mark, as the commencement speaker, you should think of yourself as the corpse at an old-fashioned Irish wake. They need you to have the party, but nobody expects you to say very much."

Sometime in your life - it may be next month, or next year, or ten years down the line, those of you who are graduating will be asked, "Who was the speaker at your commencement ceremony?" And I must say that it pains me a little to admit that you might not remember who spoke here today. Trust me on this. But sometimes - sometimes - people remember what is said at their commencement ceremony even if they can't always recall who said it. And that is my hope.

It is a special pleasure for me to be here today. From its founding days, Eleanor Roosevelt College students and faculty have been dedicated to the concept of world citizenship, a belief held very dear by Eleanor Roosevelt herself. After her husband's death, Eleanor took her influence global. At President Truman's request, she served as a Delegate to the United Nations, one of her husband's greatest legacies, where she chaired the Commission on Human Rights and was a motivating force behind one of the most remarkable documents in world history, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. President John F. Kennedy wisely sought her counsel and asked her to chair the Commission on the Status Women and, I am proud to note, to serve on the Peace Corps Advisory Council.

Since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961, nearly 500 UCSD grads have served as Volunteers. As you sit here today, 39 UCSD grads are overseas teaching English and health, improving agricultural techniques and business practices. And last night I met several Eleanor Roosevelt graduates who are headed to the Peace Corps later this summer.

So I am delighted to be at this outstanding academic institution, here on the edge of the continent and at the edge of a new century, to offer a little advice. I have three suggestions that I hope you might find useful in the years ahead. First, as you leave Roosevelt, I urge you to begin to take the long-term view of life. Second, in order to be an effective citizen in the next century, you must continue to seek international solutions. And third, we must commit ourselves to renewing our commitment to service, the threat that will hold our society together in the next century.

Let me start by explaining what I mean by taken the long-term view. It is common for commencement speakers to come on stage and give a fiery oratory about how you should make every day count - carpe diem, seize the day - never look back. While I agree with this sentiment in some respects, I firmly believe that in today's world - with 24-hour news cycles, pizza in thirty minutes, and instant access to the Internet - we often don't put enough emphasis on "perspective." No matter where you are and what you are doing, find some time for perspective.

Why "perspective?" Because it will allow you to place your decisions, your actions, and your responsibilities in some context beyond their immediate impact on you and your families. In our world of high-speed access and instant gratification, it is important to take a look down the road for your inspiration.

In the Peace Corps today, I see people from all 50 states working in nearly 80 countries across the globe, all with the goal of making a difference. They come from rural and urban areas. They hold degrees in everything from biology to French. They are young and old. What they have in common is a deep commitment to help change and improve the human condition.

But as every Peace Corps Volunteer will tell you, to make a difference takes time. A Volunteer can't build a water well in one day. She needs to work with the people in her village and make sure that they take ownership of the well so that when she leaves and comes home, they can care for it themselves in the years that follow. To do this, she needs to earn the trust of the villagers, a process that takes time and patience. It is not easy building relationships, but they are still the most important foundation for friendship and peace in the world today.

Each and every one of you will make mistakes. You will fall down sometime along the way. The key is to keep things in perspective. Success is often error-driven. But I assure you, in the long run, you will be remembered not for falling down, but for how you got back on your feet.

Let me give you one example. There was a man who was determined to serve as a public official. He ran for state legislature and lost. He ran for Congress and lost. He ran for the Senate and lost, twice. He even tried to get himself appointed as a state land officer, and was rejected. But this man was convinced that he had something to offer as a public servant. He did not give up after his failures, and he kept trying. He got back on his feet and got himself elected - as President of the United States. So you see, even Abraham Lincoln, perhaps our country's greatest President, had to take the long view of life.

The second thing I want to talk about is solutions. People often say that they to go school to find "the answers." The best schools don't provide answers, they promote solutions. The difference has to do with problem-solving. "Answer" implies total and singular correctness (there is only one answer), while "solution" means the act of solving a problem (it is a process). Life itself is much more about solving problems than knowing answers.

I believe that graduates of Eleanor Roosevelt College have a head start in making problem-solving a way of life. Throughout your study of history and 'The Making of the Modern World," you have the benefit of the combined experience of thousands of years. You have been taught the value of a broad, liberal arts education that encourages intellectual curiosity, community involvement, and international activism. By combining commitment to serving others with a thirst for life-long learning, you've been encouraged to take the initiative, to think outside the box, and to develop alternative solutions.

This attitude, in many ways, is similar to the Peace Corps. Like life, there is no guidebook to a successful Peace Corps service, no daily checklist to follow. But our Volunteers are innovative, persevering, and deeply committed, and more often than not they find a way to make things happen. Like Roosevelt students, they use creative solutions to make real change.

The last thing I want to say today has to do with service and the important role it must play in our lives in the next century. Mohammed Ali used to say that "The service you do for others is the rent you pay for the time you spend on the earth."

The next eight months, the last of the 20th Century, are sure to be interesting ones for all of us. There will be countless television specials about the great lessons of this century-about how a century ravaged by the tragedies of war and conflict has also experienced the greatest leaps in wealth, science, technology, population, and culture that the world has ever seen.

We are a more inter-connected world than we've ever been. Information travels across continents in milliseconds. A thousand new books are published each day. Over a billion e-mails are sent each day. When President Clinton took office seven years ago, there were 55 Web sites on the Internet. Today, we are adding nearly 100,000 sites a day.

Technology has made this possible. But many of the world's problems cannot be solved by more data - we need to promote more understanding. The connection we still need the most is the personal kind. We need to reach each other not only with the touch of a keyboard, but with a handshake and the embrace that comes with a new friendship.

With all opportunities before you, I urge you to think about what your rent will be for the time you spend on this earth. Our country needs you to stay active in your local communities, to be an important part of the vital civil society that keeps American democracy working. Service - the act of Americans devoting time and energy to their neighbors at home and abroad - will be an even more important force in the next century. It is a tall task, but I am convinced that your generation is more than up for it.

Although it has been unnoticed by many social observers, you may be one of the most socially active generations this century. Because you are continually compared to the tumultuous 1960s and the Baby Boomers, many pundits miss the point that your generation's activism is just as strong, it is just carried out in a different way.

Surveys show that your generation has the lowest interest in politics in 30 years, yet you are volunteering in your communities at record levels. This shows me a couple of things. This generation may be less convinced than the Baby Boomers that they can "change the world" or affect political institutions. Instead of embracing the latest cause celebre, today's college students are proving that hands-on, pragmatic service work can change lives. The idealism and sense of altruism in today's college students may not mirror the high-octane brand of the '60s and '70s. But your generation may have it right: your activism is less divisive and more constructive.

Thousands of young people have taken the opportunity to serve by joining the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Teach for America, or one of the dozens of other organizations that promote community service and development. I encourage you to continue to be a part of the service movement, to incorporate service into your life.

This means staying involved through organizations like the Community Outreach Effort, AIDS Walk San Diego, Multi Cultural Student Network and others. This means volunteering to help a child learn to read, or clean up the beautiful San Diego beaches. It can also mean taking that energy and joining the Peace Corps, where you travel overseas, learn another language, live in another culture, and help people build a better future for their families and communities.

We would do well to recall the words of one man who taught us much about what it means to serve. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had this to say about the power of service: "Everybody can be great because everyone can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know about Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul regenerated by love."

Armed with your degrees and at least two decades of experience on this earth, you are ready to take on the challenges that lie ahead of you. Looking out at all of you today - the next generation of leaders - reaffirms the confidence I have in our country's future. Your generation is a source of hope and optimism for the rest of us. You have the right tools and the right balance of idealism and pragmatism to tackle and solve many of the world's intransigent problems.

The responsibility is awesome, but the opportunities are limitless. The world belongs to you now - take good care of it. Good luck, and God speed on your journey.

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