Bill Richardson, Honorary Doctor of Laws


Governor of New Mexico


May 25, 2003

Thank you very much, Mr. President, for that very flattering introduction-which I wrote.

(Not true!)

You know, when I was elected to the Congress as a freshman, I went to House Speaker Tip O'Neill and said, "I want to ask you some advice. I have to do my first commencement speech. What do I say?"

He said, "Think of yourself as a corpse at an Irish wake. Show up, but don't say much."

Well, I'm very proud to report that the Middlebury network in America is alive and well. When it was announced that I would be the graduation speaker, I got all these calls and emails and all these graduates in New Mexico surfaced. There's one I want to tell you about. An "R.W." from Los Alamos, New Mexico. He didn't sign his name. This is what he sent to me. He said, "Governor Richardson, I am a graduate of the class of 1974. Middlebury is a wonderful place, and may I offer you some unsolicited advice for your commencement speech? Stick to your renowned sense of humor (which I don't think is so good) instead of the sordid liberalism which you are practicing and which will ruin our state."

So. "R.W." will soon be audited.

Anyway, I'm delighted to be here with you today. I'm also very conscious of a survey done by the Pew Foundation of the class of 1983, 20 years after their graduation from college. Seventy-two percent of the college graduates in America in 1983 do not remember who their graduation speaker was, and 92 percent cannot recall anything that person said. So, I'm very conscious of that, too.

You know, the ties between Middlebury and my state are strong. Just yesterday, I addressed the commencement class at United World College, Montezuma, New Mexico, and I know that some of their graduates are here. I also know about the great work of Bread Loaf at St. Johns in Annapolis, New Mexico. I also note the great tradition in Vermont of independence and progressivism, and I've sparred with the best of your political leaders and worked with them, Senator Leahy, Governor Dean. I've even traded insults with Bernie Sanders in the House. I had a chance to visit with Governor Douglas last night. Ari Fleisher, the White House press secretary, called me after he knew I was the graduation speaker.

And, to the graduating class that is maybe entering into public service-could we graduate some Democrats? I mean that in a very bipartisan way.

You know, as a governor, I deal with education, with bad roads, with complaints about Medicaid and health care, so I don't get a chance to delve into issues that I've worked on for many, many years as U.S. ambassador or secretary of energy and the Congress.

(I do recognize, by the way, the issue of water-and, Brian, lesson number one to the student speaker: never upstage the commencement speaker, which you did! But, Brian mentioned the issue of water, which for us is a fundamental one. We don't have any water-and we want your water.)

But, I thought that, just as somebody that has kept viewing the international situation, working with the administration on the North Korea issue, there are seven areas that I think America should concentrate on internationally after Iraq. The fundamental question is, after Iraq, what do we do? Do we continue or do we proceed with a policy of unilateralism, or do we engage? Rebuild our alliances, preserve our coalitions, and act because of this military victory that happened, and recognize that now we have diplomacy as a fundamental and hugely powerful tool to do good?

One of the seven recommendations dear to my heart: first, work with the United Nations, bring it back. Make the United Nations an entity where the united nations-on issues in civil administration in Iraq, dealing with refugees, dealing with AIDS, dealing with the plight of the poor, peacekeeping in parts of the world that don't require an American presence-bring back the strength, the coalition-building of the United Nations.

Item two, rebuild the NATO alliance, our relationships in Europe which have been frayed by the war in Iraq. The NATO alliance, for 50 years, is the most fundamental strategic alliance that America has. Restore our partnership with France and with Germany; it's been frayed. The French are difficult, I know-but we're together. We have shared values. We're democracies. A million French men died in World War II. We can overcome those differences, and we should, because it's in our interest.

Number three, North Korea-perhaps the biggest challenge America has today in terms of a country that is isolated and has nuclear weapons. The answer is not a military option, a preemptive strike. The answer is diplomacy. It's face-to-face talks. It's a discussion, perhaps, that, in exchange for this isolated nation getting an agreement that it will not be attacked by America, in return Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons; it's a discussion that, in the process of recognizing that this is the poorest nation on Earth with 30 percent of its people starving, America use its humanitarian muscle with the rest of the world to help this country come out of isolationism. But, we cannot recognize that a military option is a solution. It is not.

The Middle East is a great opportunity, now, for America to discard a policy in the past where we were letting the two actors-the Israelis and the Palestinians-make most of the decisions. Yes, they should, but with American leadership, involvement, engagement, day-to-day mediating. America can pressure both sides, and we have this window of opportunity that we must exercise.

And then the rest of the world. What ever happened to Latin America, to Africa and Asia? Whatever happened to the problems of poverty and disease and nutrition? What ever happened to those citizens of those worlds that somehow watch on the sidelines as many grow poorer as the world advances technologically? And what about the millions of immigrants coming from countries like Mexico, an America poised to have an immigration accord that opens up our borders to those that, in the end, as a nation of immigrants, have enriched us?

Number six, the Arab world. What do we do about that Arab world made up of millions of people? Seventy-two percent of the Arab world is under the age of 16. And, they don't like us, generally. How do we connect with them? I learned last night that Middlebury has a crash program for Arab instruction. That's important. That's great. When I was in government, we couldn't find Arab linguists to tell us what was happening in Iraq or Iran. That is so needed. How do we connect with this mass of humanity that I think, basically, looks at America and wants to be an America, admires America? We make it so tough to understand each other.

Lastly, energy policy. I spent two years as secretary of energy-some months, not very pleasantly. If there is one message from the conflict in the Persian Gulf and the problems with Saudi Arabia, it is that we must, as a nation, develop our own energy sources and not depend on OPEC and foreign oil. We must focus on renewable energy, on wind, on biomass, on solar. Recognize also that drilling oil and gas in the most environmentally compatible way also should be a policy.

So my message internationally, just wrapping things up: the challenges that you will face as graduates-and I know that you're well prepared-are not going to be country-to-country. They'll be regional threats. They'll be ethnic and tribal warfare, problems of nuclear proliferation, international terrorism networks, environmental degradation, climate change and the rights of women around the world-many that are tortured. Those require multi-lateralism, working with others. America can't resolve every problem without this kind of joint effort.

Now, I can't resist, since I have the stage, a little bit of advice to the graduates. Three points.

(Remember "The Graduate?" Our generation, "plastics" won. I will go beyond that.)

Point one, one bit of hope and advice: think, some of you-because you're civic minded, you've been exposed to cultures, you have a great language tradition-think of being in public service or in academia or in teaching, professions that can really make a difference.

I want to tell you, I've run for office, for Congress, for governor. I have lost. (It's better to win than to lose, by the way. The most fun I ever have is when I run for office. It's the governing that's the problem.) But, be involved in public service. You can really make a difference. That's lesson number one.

Lesson number two: take a stand. After years of being a politician-and you know how a politician puts his finger up and the wind blows and you hear this, "well, on the one hand, and on the other hand." You remember what Harry Truman said? "Get rid of all these many-handed economists." What is very important, what is very important is that you take a stand and stick to it. Stick to it. Maybe you're not right. You know that advice dad gives you, your coach gives you, maybe some of your professors: winning is everything? Failure is not an option? Don't believe that stuff. There will be failure. There will be some losses. It's how you bounce back. It's how you bounce back, and how you change.

My last point-this is what I call the return to roots. It's sort of a corny recommendation, but it's important: look around you. Look at your class. Look at your parents. Look at your faculty. Look at Middlebury. Remember your roots. This is a great school. You know, years from now, you'll remember what you did in your four years here. You won't remember the week before what you did in your future profession, but you'll remember almost every day of what you did here, because the memories are good. So be loyal to Middlebury. Be good alumni. Contribute.

Remember that.

Now, one of the honorees today-wonderful guy, he should have been the commencement speaker-Professor Donald, noted author/writer, he said something last night that I am now going to heed. He said that a college president at commencement speeches should, in his little bag, keep a pistol. That pistol should be directed at long-winded graduation speakers.

In case that is so with President McCardell, I will now sit down!

Thank you.