Given by Secretary Elaine Chao on May 19, 2002 at the DePauw University
Thank you, President Bottoms… It’s wonderful to see all of the new construction on campus… thank you for your fine leadership.
Graduating seniors, parents, trustees, faculty, friends, and family … I am delighted to join you today for the 163rd commencement of this fine university.
Congratulations to all of the honorary degree recipients… and a special hello to my fellow Kentuckians in the audience.
I’ve heard so many wonderful things about DePauw from Kris Iverson who serves as the Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Labor. She’s a proud DePauw alumna and never lets us forget it.
The Deputy Secretary of the DOL, Cam Findlay, also has a close connection to this fine school… his father is Dr. Donald Findlay of your Board of Trustees.
Dr. Findlay, your commitment to DePauw is well known. It was a pleasure to meet you and Mrs. Findlay this weekend.
DePauw is one of the nation’s top liberal arts universities. You count among your many illustrious alumni, former Vice President Dan Quayle, with whom I served in President George H. W. Bush Administration.
Graduating seniors, your liberal arts education at DePauw has given you an avenue to uncommon success. It will open many doors. But, it has also given you a responsibility.
A responsibility not just to obey the law and pay your taxes, but a responsibility to lead.
One of the most impressive aspects at DePauw University is its outstanding tradition of community service.
As a former head of the Peace Corps, and late President and CEO of United Way of America, I care deeply about the uniquely American spirit of volunteering and community service.
My professional experience in volunteer and charitable organizations arose out of my own experience as an immigrant to this country. That time in my early life helped me realize, in a very personal way, the great value of giving to your neighbors.
When my family arrived here from Asia, I was eight years old. We did not speak English and were not familiar with American customs. The kindness, the helping hands of strangers—soon to be our friends and neighbors—helped to smooth our transition to this wonderful new country.
As a country, it is, indeed, through service to our neighbors and communities that we build on the momentum of a million acts of kindness and decency.
The horrific attacks on our country of September 11th reminded us of the value of our freedom and our ties to one another as Americans. It also opened our hearts to a new spirit of service in America—one that asks, “What can I do to help?”
In response to this national question, at his State of the Union Address this past January, President George W. Bush established the USA Freedom Corps. He also called on every American to commit at least two years—4,000 hours over the rest of our individual lifetimes—to the service of our neighbors, communities and our nation.
Since his call to service, more than 29,000 Americans have volunteered with the new Citizen Corps. And applications for AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps are up dramatically, as well.
More Americans are learning, every day, the value of community service. DePauw’s Hartman Center for Civic Education is a monument to it, and I know that as DePauw students you have been encouraged to give of yourself throughout your career here.
And now, as you leave the safe haven of DePauw, it is time to think about carrying a commitment to service forward into your post-graduate life.
The habit of service you have formed here at DePauw, through DePauw Community Service, Winter Term in Service, the Bonner Scholars Program, and Alternative Spring Break is as important to our nation’s future as the knowledge you have acquired in the classroom.
Not only that, but DePauw’s lasting legacy is to produce leaders. You will not only serve, you will need to lead. We need your generation of “can-do” Americans. We need citizens who can analyze issues and problems; design solutions; build coalitions of support; and motivate others.
Take the time and make a commitment to sharing your time and your talents—share what you have learned here wherever you go next.
And make good on your good intentions. Over 85% of this country’s graduating college seniors plan to donate money, clothes, or food to a community or religious organization. And six of every ten young adults plan to volunteer with a similar group.
My hopes are high that you will follow through on these plans. After all, more than 45% of those graduating from college this year already volunteer more than seventeen hours a month.
To those of you who are involved in the community surrounding DePauw, who are part of that 45% right now, I want to thank you. We are grateful for your work. The Greencastle community is better off as a result. And America is stronger as well.
But there is still much to do. There is a need for every volunteer.
If you have accounting skills, you can help small community organizations with their finances.
If you have communications skills, you can help with fundraising for charitable groups.
If you are good with your hands, you can build or repair community centers or people’s homes.
If you have an interest in health care, you can help in a clinic.
You have a unique opportunity to make a real impact on our country and our world, and a chance to make your generation the new “greatest generation.” You will do that in thousands of ways, but I challenge you, as you think about how to make your impact, to change you community, your country and your world one heart at time.
Twenty-one percent of young people who choose to serve say they do so, “because it makes a difference.” They couldn’t be more right. When you change one person’s life, you are changing the world.
Most people also say that they volunteer because they were asked to do so. And so, this afternoon, I’m here to ask you to volunteer to serve your community, your nation, and your world.
As a graduate of DePauw University, you are already part of a great tradition of community service. My hope is that you will join a long national tradition of service.
Let me leave with you a few key things that are important to keep in mind as you carry on the tradition:
One, community service is not an item on a list to be checked-off. Like a life-long commitment to your own physical health, it is a life-long commitment to your spiritual health and the health of the world you live in. It is something you do not for public recognition, but because it is right and good for our world.
Two, discard the notion that dealing with Big Problems like peace in the Middle East or eradicating hunger in Africa are somehow more noble than something like helping one child to read. All acts of kindness are great.
Three, the only way that freedom and opportunity can prosper is when Americans take responsibility not only for their own actions, but to care for their neighbors as well. A nation that depends solely on its government to establish order, enforce good behaviors, or to be the exclusive provider of services or benefits is a nation that has lost its moral grounding.
The First Lady, on her European trip this past week, told a conference of the Organization for EU Cooperation and Development: “a lasting victory in the war against terrorism depends on educating the world’s children because educated children are much more likely to embrace the values that defeat terror.” “If citizens are educated, countries around the world will help us fight terrorism.”
As our President tells us, terrorism is fought with acts of goodness and kindness.
So as you venture forth, please do not forget to use your life not only do well… but also to do good.
Thank you. May God bless you, and may God bless America.