Sunday, June 11, 2006

Commencement Speakers- words to live by

Jodie Foster
Actor, director and producer
University of Pennsylvania
You pick up bits and pieces of treasure and trash, pain and pleasure, passions and disappointments, and you start throwing them in your bag, your big bag of experience. You do some dumb things that don't work out at all. You stumble excitedly on little gems that you never saw coming. And you stuff them all in your bag. You pursue the things you love and believe in. You cast off the images of yourself that don't fit. And suddenly you look behind you and a pattern emerges.

You look in front of you and the path makes sense. There is nothing more beautiful than finding your course as you believe you bob aimlessly in the current. Wouldn't you know that your path was there all along, waiting for you to knock, waiting for you to become. This path does not belong to your parents, your teachers, your leaders, your lovers. Your path is your character defining itself more and more every day, like a photograph coming into focus.

Anthony M. Kennedy
Associate justice of the Supreme Court
New York University

Think of the people around the world, and particularly in Africa, who have no clean water. Women in Africa — and the job falls to women — must spend six, eight hours a day just in trying to bring clean water to their children. Eight billion hours a year of human effort are spent just in bringing water. And when I heard that statistic, sitting like you are in an audience, I thought, "Well, he must have said eight million." Then I thought, "Maybe it's 80 million." It's eight billion hours a year of wasted effort because the water is often contaminated when it gets there. This isn't rocket science. You can fix this.

Wendy Kopp
President and founder of Teach for America
University of North Carolina

During my senior fall, I helped organize a conference about education reform, where one of the topics was the shortage of qualified teachers in urban and rural communities. It was at that conference that I thought of an idea: why doesn't our country have a national teacher corps that recruits us to teach in low-income communities the same way we're being recruited to work on Wall Street? From that moment, I was possessed by this idea. I thought it would make a huge difference in kids' lives ... and that ultimately it could change the very consciousness of our country, by influencing the thinking and career paths of a generation of leaders. So I did the obvious thing. I wrote a very long and very passionate letter to the president of the United States suggesting he start this corps. That didn't get very far — I received a job rejection letter in response. So in my undergraduate senior thesis, I declared that I would try to create such a corps myself, as a nonprofit organization. When my thesis adviser looked at my budget, which showed that to recruit 500 new teachers into this corps during the first year would cost $2.5 million, he asked me if I knew how hard it was to raise $2,500, let alone $2.5 million.

Aided by my inexperience, I was unfazed by his question. When school district officials and potential funders laughed at the notion that the Me Generation would jump at the chance to teach in urban and rural communities, their concerns, too, went unheard. That year, 2,500 graduating seniors competed to enter Teach For America in response to a grass-roots recruitment campaign — fliers under doors, since there was no e-mail back then.

And one year after I graduated, with $2.5 million in hand from the corporate and foundation community, I was looking out on an auditorium full of 489 recent college graduates who had joined Teach for America's first corps. My very greatest asset in reaching this point was that I simply did not understand what was impossible.

Jeffrey R. Immelt
Chairman and C.E.O. of General Electric
Northeastern University

There's a lot of volatility out there, especially when you look 10 and 20 years down the road. Will China or India eclipse the United States as the dominant economic power in the world? Will global warming lead to more ecological turmoil? Will the cost of caring for aging populations around the world bankrupt national treasuries? These are only questions. We don't have the answers yet. The future hasn't been written yet. That's up to you.

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