Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We have had our turn. Now it's yours. What will you do with it?

My older sister has graciously asked me to pin her during her pinning and graduation ceremony for her Masters degree in Nursing next month. I'm honored to be asked, excited for her to achieve such a significant personal accomplishment, and am also pleased to see another cohort of leaders ready to head into the world and make a difference in the lives of many with their skills, talent, and passion.

In reflecting on the transition from study to action, and a call for individual professions to intersect for the common good, I noticed an excerpt from former Vice President Walter F. Mondale's commencement address at the Humphrey School of Public Affair's May 15 graduation ceremony in a copy of the recent Humphrey School of Public Affairs newsletter. See below for a portion of his remarks and subsequent call to action:
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“We are here to honor an idea: the belief that by intelligently acting together for the public good, we can improve the lives of our fellow citizens and together make a better society.

At our Humphrey School, this ideal of the public good is a day-to-day reality. Our faculty participates vigorously in the life of our state. They have helped Minnesota become a leader in such fields as water quality preservation, early childhood education, housing and urban planning, and racial justice. Our graduates, to be found at work literally all over the world, are making a huge difference.

As you surely know, this year marks Hubert Humphrey’s 100th anniversary. A famous political scientist once said that Hubert Humphrey was a oneperson policy incubator who spawned more down-to-earth ideas and accomplishments than practically anyone else in American history. Humphrey was all about ideas that would expand opportunity, mercy, and justice, and he was at the center of all of the fundamental changes that brought us—all of us—into the more decent and just America in which we are blessed to live.

Today this ideal is under severe challenge. I heard a president say that government is not the solution, government is the problem. The idea seems to be that government cannot be made to work well for us, that it is irredeemable. There are others, of course, who think government always works well and can solve all of our problems. Both positions are fi xed and ideological, and I believe both are wrong.

Lincoln, as always, had it right when he said that ‘the legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all or cannot so well do for themselves in their separate individual capacities.’

In other words, whether and how we use government to help us face a challenge should be a pragmatic question dictated by the circumstances and facts of the case. It also depends on your basic ideas and ideals about American society.

Not so long ago, we had a nation where progress was possible, where compromise was not an evil word, and where debate was hot but respectful. That’s not what we are leaving for you now. We are split right down the middle.

My parents’ generation struggled with the Great Depression. But they gave my generation a rich land, strong values, and a dream of opportunity. My generation was challenged to defend our freedom from bitter foes and to bridge the gap between the justice we found and the society we wanted to become. We gave our children the promise of opened doors, the duty of service, and the trusteeship of our natural resources. But with that came challenges—a dangerous world, a polarized nation, the struggle to make ends meet.

Now it’s your turn.

You are given science and technology that stagger the imagination. What will you do with it?

You inherit incomparable natural beauty and unprecedented environmental risk. How will you face it?

You have the oldest and greatest democracy in the world as your birthright but inherit government at an impasse, public trust at an ebb, public discourse at a bottom. How will you raise your generation’s sights? How will you renew our promise for the generation that follows?

We have had our turn. Now it’s yours. What will you do with it?

We know this about you: you have everything you need—the character, the values, the country, the vision. You are young, strong, and beautiful.

I know you can do it.”

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