Final Words

‘Tis the season for graduation speeches, for those bits of wisdom, humor and banality that are a part of every spring in America. Here are a few of the better pieces from this year’s crop:

I feel really strongly right now that we are in such an important time. Yes, it’s dangerous, but it’s also a time of enormous promise and it’s going to be put to you. Don’t be hindered in times that can be full of angst, confusion, and chaos. And considering what this country can instill and present to you, you can shape and play your role in your very own future. It is a wonderful, beautiful country – still capable, still capable, despite what’s been going on lately, of reaching its potential to itself and the world, and is ever capable of truly expressing the virtues of democracy and freedom. — Robert Redford, Bard College, NY

You might think that I’m now going to advise you not to be afraid to fail. I’m not. Be afraid. Speaking from considerable experience, failing stinks. Just don’t be undone by it. Move on. Failure is no more a permanent condition than is success. "Defeat is never fatal," Winston Churchill observed. "Victory is never final. It’s courage that counts." — Senator John McCain, University of Southern California

Lets talk about the real world for a moment. I wanted to bring this up to you earlier about the real world, and this is, I guess, as good a time as any. I don’t really know how to put this, so I’ll be blunt. We broke it. Please don’t be mad. I know we were supposed to bequeath to the next generation a world better than the one we were handed. So, sorry. I don’t know if you’ve been following the news lately, but it just kind of got away from us. Somewhere between the gold rush of easy Internet profits and an arrogant sense of endless empire, we heard kind of a pinging noise, and uh, then the thing just died on us. So I apologize. — Jon Stewart, William and Mary, VA

By succumbing to fear we are doing the terrorists’ bidding: we are unleashing a vicious circle of violence. If we go on like this, we may find ourselves in a permanent state of war. The war on terror need never end because the terrorists are invisible, therefore they will never disappear. And if we are in a permanent state of war we cannot remain an open society. — George Soros, Columbia School of International and Public Affairs, NY

One of the biggest threats to our world is the culture of silence and compromise – politicians who compromise their beliefs because they’re scared they’ll piss off their voters and won’t get re-elected, corporate executives who put profits above principles. You can have a conscience and still make money. You can have genuine values and still get elected. You can even make movies that do well at the box office without playing to the lowest common denominator. — Samuel L. Jackson, Vassar

You have to try to build a world where people treat each other the way you treat each other, where people relate to each other the way that you relate to each other. In an interdependent world, we cannot ever succeed in killing, jailing or in occupying all of our adversaries. We’ve got to make a world with more friends and fewer terrorists… For a fraction of what we spend on defense, we could make more friends and a lot fewer terrorists. — Bill Clinton, City College of New York