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bittersweet memories

Posted on 2015.01.10 at 19:55
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Great Speeches by African Americans: Barack Obama
Knox College Commencement Address (2005), delivered while he was the Illinois junior senator

"What's your place in history?"

Obama talks about how on his first day as a senator (99th in seniority), he was earnestly asked that question. He laughed, but "as I was thinking about the words to share with this class, about what's next, what's possible, and what opportunities lay ahead, I think it's not a bad question to ask yourselves."

He describes America as a "place where destiny was not destination, but a journey to be shared and shaped and remade by people who had the gall, the temerity to believe that, against all odds, they could form a 'more perfect union' on this new frontier." He acknowledges that this "collective dream moved forward imperfectly—it was scarred by our treatment of native peoples, betrayed by slavery, clouded by the subjugation of women, shaken by war and depression . . . Have we failed at times? Absolutely. Will you occasionally fail when you embark on your own American journey? Surely. But the test is not perfection.
The true test of the American ideal is whether we’re able to recognize our failings and then rise together to meet the challenges of our time. Whether we allow ourselves to be shaped by events and history, or whether we act to shape them. Whether chance of birth or circumstance decides life’s big winners and losers, or whether we build a community where, at the very least, everyone has a chance to work hard, get ahead, and reach their dreams."

Americans have faced difficult choices before: Do we make basic rules for the market, set up public schools, break up monopolies, and let workers form unions or do we let industry and robber barons maximize profits? Do we act during the Great Depression to regulate the market, put people back to work, expand bargaining rights to include healthcare and retirement funds or do we do nothing? Do we mobilize and produce weapons during WWII or do we accept that it's too big of a task? The new challenge is globalization and how America finds its place in the new global economy.*

One of our options is the Ownership Society, also called Social Darwinism. Although it's a tempting idea because it doesn't require much thought, ingenuity, or empathy, it won't work and has never worked in the history of American society. Government research and investment made railways and the Internet possible. It helped create the middle class. Economic dominance depends on individual initiative, the free market, and mutual regard for each other. Political stability results from everyone having a stake in our country. If we do nothing in response to globalization, more people will lose jobs, health care, and retirement opportunities.

"Today I'm here to tell you what most of you already know. This isn't us. This isn't how our story ends—not in this country. America is a land of big dreamers and big hopes." This is the alternative idea:
1. Prepare every child with the education and skills needed to compete.
2. Make college affordable.
3. Create opportunities for job re-training and lifelong education.
4. Health care and pension separate from your job.
5. Increasing the budgets for research and development and science.
None of this will come easily. We will have to work more, think more, train more, read more, recognize our collective responsibility, do more than just defend old programs, stop driving gas-guzzling cars, reform institutions, etc. "It won't be easy but it can be done. It can be our future. We have the talent and the resources and the brainpower. But now we need the political will. We need a national commitment."

Obama tells the graduates that they are needed, but that no one can force them to meet those challenges and perform community service. Warns them that focusing on making money "shows a poverty of ambition." They shouldn't do these things because they have a debt or obligation to (although they do). They should do them because "our individual salvation depends on collective salvation." He offers examples of individual people fighting against large challenges: abolitionists, the Underground Railroad, and Freedom Riders.

Closes with

My hope for all of you is that as you leave here today, you decide to keep these principles alive in your own life and in the life of this country. You will be tested. You won’t always succeed. But know that you have it within your power to try. That generations who have come before you faced these same fears and uncertainties in their own time. And that through our collective labor, and through God’s providence, and our willingness to shoulder each others' burdens, America will continue on its precious journey towards that distant horizon, and a better day.

* - NOT!!!

Go to journal http://hells-librarian.livejournal.com/

PS - I once worked in the same office as Rahm Emmanuel. I met him. He was all elbows. I was told he was promoting some guy named, "Barack Obama". I said, with a name like that, it would never fly. I was wrong. But I was right about Emmanuel! He is a Machiavellian ASSHOLE. History shall be the judge.

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