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.
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.
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!
Student Speech by Brian McCurdy '03
The End of an Education
By Brian McCurdy, Class of 2003
The end of an education, it seems, comes all too soon.
Since a young age, we have entrenched ourselves in formal institutions, asking questions, becoming "edumacated." The ultimate goal is an understanding of the world around us, and our place within it. Yet there comes a point when questions must cease to be our only focus. For many of us, that time is now. For others, it is soon to come.
According to R. H. Blythe, we pose serious questions because it "is a way of avoiding the real answer . . . which is really known already," but requires more effort and sacrifice. For seventeen years, our responsibility - with few exceptions - has been answering the questions that were already asked, and have already been answered. While at Middlebury we have been confronted with issues that reveal no easy answer, or have never been answered. We study hopeless causes and dire situations, things that would persist if not for the people who cease asking questions, and dedicate themselves to the answers. Middlebury graduates are those people; and today, at the culmination of our formal education, we become responsible for answers to the difficult questions.
This is a scary prospect. None of us have all the answers. Most of us - myself included - don't even have some of the answers. Some people overslept, forgot the question, and misunderstood the assignment. However, if we focus solely on what we lack, we discredit our achievements over the previous four years. If we are overwhelmed by the negatives, the positives will elude us. The decisions are more difficult when we do not know all of the answers. Our actions therefore, must reflect our best judgments, a product of our formal and informal education. Though formal education may end today, it is the informal which will affect us greatest in the future.
For four years we have been part of an informal community where we constantly learn: from each other, from mistakes, from examples. Today we leave this comfortable and isolated community, though rich opportunities exist where we will continue to learn. Though the options for informal institutions are limitless, I will focus on fly fishing, a community that I know well, and believe exemplifies the possibilities for lifelong learning, improving my competency as a fisherman, life student and person.
Do not cheat. When you look at it from the admittedly elitist fly fishing perspective, using worms is easy, unsportsmanlike, and in essence, cheating. I do not approve of a fish caught if the quality of the process does not match the quality of the end product. Take satisfaction in hard work and the positives that result; it is about the journey, and not the destination. Although we have been learning this since childhood, it is good to remind ourselves that taking shortcuts cheats us all in the end.
Do not lie. Although saying you caught a twenty inch brook trout might make you look good in your mind's eye, a real fisherman will immediately be suspicious. This does not mean you should keep the fish; in fact do not keep it. Instead, a picture will suffice. This should also not imply that you are required to prove your worth to others; you should strive to be the "real fisherman," a confident individual. Lying about a twenty inch brook trout will keep you short of accomplishing this goal. Be truthful and direct, and you will command the respect and high regard of your peers.
Patience is critical to success. Too many people splash headlong into rivers, or decisions, and end up filling their proverbial waders, forgetting one crucial aspect. Take your time. You will catch more fish, and your decisions will be superior. If the situation necessitates immediate action, a quick decision may be the most appropriate, but do not let this instance of urgency define your approach to decision-making.
Be patient with those who do not have patience. Whether it's a person who spooks a large trout in the pool you are fishing, a colleague, friend or your significant other, we can all stand to be a little more patient. This entails a respect for others, their ideas and opinions, their secret fishing spots, and the proclivity to defend and conceal them.
Do not be afraid to ask for help. One should continue asking questions of their field until no more questions need to be answered - at which point one should engage a new field of questioning and learning. At the same time, enthusiastically support others' attempts to find the answers. I would have given up long ago on fly-fishing if I had not asked questions, and learned from patient friends the secrets to catching trout. My success as a fisherman is a tribute to those who supported my questioning.
Have fun. Ben and Jerry have a bumper sticker that says it best: "if it's not fun, why do it." Let's face it, fishing is fun, work often is not. Another bumper sticker says "work is for people who don't know how to fish." Need I say more? Ok, I will. Make work more fun.
Value the natural world. There is an immeasurable worth in wild and natural areas, places where we can renew our connection with a less hectic, more peaceful world than our own. These are areas to relax, to sport, to ponder and to leave alone. Its members deserve as much freedom as we do, which is why I recommend leaving trout in the river.
Note: we can at best hold our breath underwater for two minutes; it is safe to assume a fish out of water can do no better.
No one fishes concrete bedded streams in the middle of a town. Beautiful rivers and enchanting forests provide a more-fulfilling experience.
Be part of a community. Whether a group of friends, or a membership organization, it is important. Your peers and friends are sources for knowledge and enjoyment, and will support you in moments of self-doubt and need. Fly fisherman spend hours in a river to not catch fish; we are a community of odd and misunderstood individuals. We don't think it is odd, we find it therapeutic. It is important to have people around you that understand and relate to the oddities of your actions and ideas. Find that community.
Support a significant cause. To each his own hopeless cause or dire situation, but I support projects that promote clean water. It is likely that water will become the single largest issue of this youthful century. Water is an irreplaceable element of our survival, and the survival of the living world. Trout fishermen give significant effort and attention to this problem, which benefits both fish, and the greater masses. If you take only one idea away from these notes on fly-fishing, clean water is it.
Lastly, recognize that everything is dynamic; one never enters the same river twice. The fly that worked tonight will not produce in a month. Without the ability to adapt to constant change, the fisherman is destined for failure. I may be destined for failure if I keep talking your ears off about fly fishing. If you want I could talk about Michigan, but I won't.
Today we graduate; we conclude a remarkable formal and informal education. Today we become more responsible for answering real questions, and our Middlebury education has uniquely prepared us to give informed and substantial responses. Where we lack proof or decisiveness, there are a myriad of groups and people that are willing to help if we pledge the same support to them. Congratulations, spread forth with the good word of fly-fishing, and never stop learning.