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Commencement Address by Senator Chuck Hagel

Sunday, May 20, 2012
D.A.R. Constitution Hall, Washington, DC

The words of Franklin Roosevelt at his fourth inaugural on January 20, 1945 echo as loudly today, as we are shaping and defining a new world, as when he offered them in the last months of World War II.

“I remember that my old schoolmaster said, in days that seemed to us then to be secure and untroubled: ‘Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes, we will be rising toward the heights – then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward. The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward; that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend’.

We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations, far away. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community.”

President Roosevelt’s words expressed the human experience of triumph and defeat, and the judgment of history. I offer you an assessment of my own experiences and modest attempt to translate them into a parting contribution for today’s graduates.

I share with you five lessons I have learned over the years that may be of some value to you as you look forward from this day.

Lesson 1:  Do what is ethical, not just what is legal. Too often we define our standards of conduct by legality.  We blow past the ethical boundaries trying to maximize profit or prestige or influence. There is a difference between ethical and legal conduct. Hold yourself to a higher standard than simply what you can get away with…and don’t cut corners. Your real competitor, and critic in life is ultimately yourself.

During your life, when you are faced with difficult decisions, almost always, you will know that the right thing to do…is the right thing to do. Do it. Listen to yourself and be guided by what you believe is right.
Standing against the crowd and doing what you think is right may be very lonely and frightening, but it will serve you well over the long haul.  

Lesson 2: Take risks and seek new experiences. Nothing worth having in life comes without the risk of failure. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failing to try is worse than failing to achieve. Your generation will have more options than any generation of Americans. Take advantage of them. Seek out new challenges.

Lesson 3: Don’t focus on the externals.
Marymount University has given you a tremendous start in life, but it is only a start.  Do not lose your sense of curiosity and quest for improvement. Read, read and then read some more. The world in which you will be living will be more competitive than any generation has ever known, but don’t let that throw you. We too often focus on the externals – the next achievement, the next grade, the next job. Remember that you have both a life and a career. Prepare yourself personally, and the professional will take care of itself. This will be a tough challenge in today’s world.

Lesson 4: Give something back. You have all benefited from living in a country that among other privileges, has allowed you the opportunity to receive a first-rate education. With this privilege comes a responsibility to give something back to your country and your fellow man. Whether it is mentoring a child, serving in the military, running for office, or volunteering for a noble cause, this country will provide you countless everyday meaningful opportunities to give something back to society.  Patriotism and service are old fashioned values, but they never outlive their time. We all have an obligation in life to help make a better world for all people.

Lesson 5: Remember what really matters in life. We live in an age of instant – and constant – communication. “Immediacy” in everything we do. In many ways this has made our lives easier to live and more productive than ever before, but the challenge for you in this “immediate world” will be to ensure that it does not diminish the things that are most important in life. Every graduate today is here because family, friends and professors helped you get here.  In life, it is these great treasures that matter most. Do not forget it.  

Stay connected in the good times…for it will help you through the tough ones that will surely come. Do not forget that it is decency and humanity that anchors mankind. And always remember who you are, where you came from and how you got where you are.

Don’t hold back your enthusiasms or dim your passion for your beliefs, loves and interests. Commit yourself fully, knowing that life will at times be unfair – but will always even out in the end. Regrets are painful to live with. You’ll have some – but you don’t want too many.

In the most recent biography of President Eisenhower by Jean Edward Smith, he notes some of the characteristics that made this boy from Kansas not only a great American President and historic General, but a successful and complete human being…his ability to: - delegate authority – communicate clearly (communication is not just talking, its more about listening) – cooperate with others – question and challenge conventional thinking and wisdom, and the accepted status quo – and see how all parts of a picture relate to the whole. Strong and informed guide posts for each of us along our life long journeys.

You are graduating at a special time. The world is undergoing a historic time of transformation and redefinition. These great moments in history come about twice in a century. Embrace this time to be alive and engage yourself in every part of it. Think of the opportunities you have to help shape the future of mankind. You will have the opportunity to do more good, for more people than any generation in the history of man. Don’t squander it.

The longer you live, the more you will realize that the three indispensable requisites in life are faith, character and courage. Never lose them. Life is not worth much without them. The currency of life is trust – a product of character. The fiber of life is self-respect – a product of courage. The essence of life is faith – a product of spirituality. Regardless of the depth of despair or the difficulty of the dilemma – faith, character and courage will see you through because they will always keep you connected to ultimately all we have in life…faith, family and friends.

To each graduate today…Congratulations. We’re proud of you. You’re now Saints for life…and you will forever be in the Alumni Association fundraising database!”