As a son of Canada and the United States, I must tell you it gave me a great thrill to be part of this procession behind these two great flags of two countries which have lived in peace with each other for so long. Allow me to put on the full regalia.
President Sullivan, Honorable Board, distinguished and resplendent faculty, esteemed graduate students, members of the class of 2008, parents, friends, guests, and glorious bagpipers, I accept this remarkable honor with gratitude and thanks on behalf of all of the people who support Public Radio and are part of the Public Radio Community in this country.
A group of people, several thousand strong across the nation, who have committed themselves to public service in their communities and who have brought forth, from their communities, remarkable support, citizen support, voluntary support, and engagement on behalf of the stations. It's an honor to be here and to be part of a great University which has nurtured and protected and strengthened the powers of North Country Public Radio in the name of WSLU, the call letters, which today St. Lawrence University to the region, to the nation, and to the world.
I want to leave, with the class of 2008, two ideas and two statements one from the present and one from the past. The statement from the present I heard from David Lloyd whom we just saw here on the stage retiring from the University after many years of great service to you all and to the University.
Last night in a dinner, he voiced the quote, which I have been looking for, to frame the challenges that you all face, because as you go forth together, the class of 2008 from St. Lawrence University, you are entering a world which is entirely different in one fundamental aspect from the world that those of my generation step forth into so many years ago.
I can summarize it this way by quoting what David Lloyd said last night from Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan who is a 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who said in the acceptance speech that, “There can be no peace without environmental justice.” The world you face and the world that will face you throughout your lives will demand a commitment, an engagement, and a leadership without precedent in the history of our great democracy. It is going to demand that you all help lead us forward to adjust in fair world with regard to the great global environment.
I grew up on a farm south of here and I have said to my colleagues in my meetings with them, they are great faculty and Board of Directors, I grew up in Dutchess County, New York that's the Banana Belt relative to you all. I was brought there in 1943 by my parents and I've lived pretty much of my life when I can get back to my roots, it's on that farm.
I know from my own personal observations that the weather, the climate, and the circumstances by which people down there try to raise crops, animals, and feed themselves and beyond themselves their community, their region and their world has changed dramatically in barely in less than half a century.
Down there, it is both drier and wetter than it ever used to be. When the rains discharge, they discharge in torrents. Streams have been gutted out by the power of rainfall, the violence of which from weather systems, it never existed 30 and 40 years ago. The world we are living in has changed and continues to change and the rate of change will challenge us all.
As you go forward, there is one other thought I wish to leave with you, which has guided all the people of this country in all of the years in the past and it helped us find our way in a contradictory and contentious and often violent world, in a society which is filled with contradictions, and filled with challenges, it has had many successes, many failures, and faces the future yet again everyday, based on principles that were framed more than 200 years ago.
I want to boil it down to one in effect 21st century sound bite from one of the great thinkers of the Founding Fathers, the gentleman from Virginia who wrote The Deceleration of Independence and who actually changed the wording of the Deceleration of Independence to read, “Inalienable rights of life, liberty...” and the original graph said, “...and pursuit of property”.
And Jefferson thinking about that and thinking about the aspirations that all future generations would have in this self-governing society, changed it to read, “...life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”
The notion of ineffable, unreachable goal that could inspire all of us and so we have moved forward seeking not only happiness for ourselves but for our family, our friends, our communities, and ultimately for our nation and beyond that the world.
Before he wrote the Deceleration of Independence, Jefferson in an essay, and here comes the sound bite, observed that for people who are going to be free of despotic power, who were going to make their own way in the world, making up for themselves, the governance by which they would move forward. Jefferson said and this is from the past and it shadows our future and demands something of us all.
He wrote that, “The people cannot be both ignorant and free, we must have information that is credible, and can be known that we can bring in to our lives to help us make the right steps, the informed steps going forward.”
You all after your years here in this great university, through the disciplines of scholarship, of the classroom, of interactions, of the great staff - the faculty, and your colleagues in the class of 2008 have been privileged to spend time looking at how one can be not ignorant and therefore informed, self-informed, and therefore, can lead the way forward for our nation in freedom.
Thank you very much.