Delivers Commencement Address at Ohio State University
Ohio State University
June 14, 2002
10:17 A.M. EDT
Thank you all very much. I appreciate that very warm welcome. President Kirwan,
thank you for inviting me. Governor Taft, Chairman Patterson, distinguished
members of the Ohio State faculty, trustees, family members, distinguished guests
and, most importantly, members of the mighty class of 2002. (Applause.) Congratulations.
You have earned a degree at a great American institution, and you have every
right to be proud. (Applause.)
I want to congratulate your parents. (Applause.) Many of you have written your
last tuition check. (Laughter.) That must be nice -- I'm still writing them.
(Laughter.) You've given so much encouragement and support to your children,
and their gratitude will only increase over the years. I also commend Ohio State's
fine faculty, which has done so much to shape the minds and hopes of the graduating
One more word of congratulations is in order. Today I had the honor of meeting
Coach Jim Tressel. (Applause.) Most polite of him to share with me the really
fine experience that the Buckeyes had up in Ann Arbor this year. (Applause.)
And I appreciate so very much the honorary degree you're conferring upon me
today. I'm delighted that George Steinbrenner is receiving one as well. I guess
we're both being honored as legends of baseball -- (laughter) -- legends, at
least, in our own minds. (Laughter.)
I am now the only person standing between you and your diploma. The tradition
of commencement addresses is to be brief -- and forgotten. I assure you that
this speech will be shorter than it seems.
Your senior year was special in your life -- and the months since last September
have been extraordinary in our country's history. On a Tuesday morning, America
went from a feeling of security to one of vulnerability, from peace to war,
from a time of calm to a great and noble cause. We are called to defend liberty
against tyranny and terror. We've answered that call. We will bring security
to our people and justice to our enemies. (Applause.)
In the last nine months, we've seen the true character of our country. We learned
of firefighters who wrote their Social Security numbers on their arms with felt
tip pens -- to mark and identify their bodies -- and then rushed into burning
buildings. We learned of the desperate courage of passengers on Flight 93 --
average citizens who led the first counter-attack in the war on terror. (Applause.)
We watched the searchers, month after month, fulfill their grim duty -- and
New Yorkers line the streets to cheer them on their way to work each morning.
And in these events, we relearned something large and important: the achievements
that last and count in life come through sacrifice and compassion and service.
Some believe this lesson in service is fading as distance grows from the shock
of September the 11th, that the good we have witnessed is shallow and temporary.
Your generation will respond to these skeptics -- one way or another. You will
determine whether our new ethic of responsibility is the break of a wave, or
the rise of a tide. You will determine whether we become a culture of selfishness
and look inward -- or whether we will embrace a culture of service and look
outward. Because this decision is in your hands, I'm confident of the outcome.
Your class and your generation understand the need for personal responsibility
-- so you will make a culture of service a permanent part of American life.
After all, nearly 70 percent of your class volunteers in some form -- from Habitat
for Humanity to Big Brothers and Big Sisters, to OhioReads. Ohio State has been
a leading source of Peace Corps volunteers since 1961. (Applause.) I honor the
29 ROTC members in today's graduating class for their spirit of service and
I hope each of you -- I hope each of you will help build this culture of service,
for three important reasons: service is important to your neighbors; service
is important to your character; and service is important to your country. (Applause.)
First, your idealism is needed in America. In the shadow of our nation's prosperity,
too many children grow up without love and guidance, too many women are abandoned
and abused, too many men are addicted and illiterate, and too many elderly Americans
live in loneliness.
These Americans are not strangers, they are fellow citizens; not problems, but
priorities. They are as much a part of the American community as you and I,
and they deserve better from this country. (Applause.)
Government has essential responsibilities: fighting wars and fighting crime;
protecting the homeland and enforcing civil rights laws; educating the young
and providing for the old; giving people tools to improve their own lives; helping
the disabled and those in need.
But you have responsibilities, as well. Some government needs -- some needs
government cannot fulfill: the need for kindness, and for understanding, and
for love. A person in crisis often needs more than a program or a check; he
needs a friend -- and that friend can be you. We are commanded by God and called
by our conscience to love others as we want to be loved ourselves. Let us answer
that call with every day we are given. (Applause.)
Second, service is important in your own life, in your own character. No one
can tell you how to live or what cause to serve. But everyone needs some cause
larger than his or her own profit. Apathy has no adventures. Cynicism leaves
no monuments. And a person who is not responsible for others is a person who
is truly alone.
By sharing the pain of a friend, or bearing the hopes of a child, or defending
the liberty of your fellow citizens, you will gain satisfaction that cannot
be gained in any other way. Service is not a chain or a chore -- it gives direction
to your gifts, and purpose to your freedom.
Lyndsey Holben is an OSU sophomore majoring in business. When she was in high
school, Lyndsey had a friend and a classmate who died from an illness -- and
Lyndsey decided she wanted to work with children who suffer from life-threatening
diseases. Today, Lyndsey is a leader among volunteers for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Here's what she had to say: "It's hard enough to put a smile on someone's
face, but especially someone who is hurting. Even if that's all you can do,
that is something -- and there is no better feeling in the world." Lyndsey,
and others here today have learned that every life of service is a life of significance.
Third, we serve others because we're Americans, and we want to do something
for the country we love. Our nation is the greatest force for good in history
-- and we show our gratitude by doing our duty. (Applause.)
Patriotism is expressed by flying the flag, but it is more. Patriotism means
we share a single country. In all our diversity, each of us has a bond with
every other American. Patriotism is proven in our concern for others -- a willingness
to sacrifice for people we may never have met or seen. Patriotism is our obligation
to those who have gone before us, to those who will follow us, and to those
who have died for us.
In March of this year, Army Ranger Marc Anderson died in Afghanistan, trying
to rescue a Navy SEAL. Marc and five others gave their lives in fulfilling the
Ranger creed: "I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands
of the enemy."
Marc, from Westerville, Ohio, was a remarkable man. Instead of pursuing a career
that might have made him wealthy, Marc decided to be a math teacher in a high
school in a tough neighborhood. He was a mentor, a tutor, and the best teacher
many students ever had.
After September the 11th, Marc joined the fight against terrorism. "I'm
trained and I'm ready," he wrote to his friends. Before Marc left for Afghanistan,
he arranged for part of his life insurance to pay for one of his former students
to attend college. Today, that student -- Jennifer Massing -- plans to go to
the University of Florida to study architecture.
Marc Anderson considered this country great enough to die for. Surely it is
great enough to live for. And we live for America by serving others. (Applause.)
And as we serve others, this challenge can only be answered in individual hearts.
Service in America is not a matter of coercion; it is a matter of conscience.
So today I'm making an appeal to your conscience, for the sake of our country.
America needs more than taxpayers, spectators, and occasional voters. America
needs full-time citizens. (Applause.) America needs men and women who respond
to the call of duty, who stand up for the weak, who speak up for their beliefs,
who sacrifice for a greater good. America needs your energy, and your leadership,
and your ambition. And through the gathering momentum of millions of acts of
kindness and decency, we will change America one soul at a time -- and we will
build a culture of service. (Applause.)
I have asked all Americans to commit at least two years -- 4,000 hours over
a lifetime -- to the service of our neighbors and our nation. My administration
created what we call the USA Freedom Corps to help Americans find service opportunities
at home and abroad. We're doubling the size of the Peace Corps. We'll increase
AmeriCorps by 50 percent. We've created Citizen Corps to help protect the homeland.
And today I'm announcing an historic partnership. We are bringing together the
broadest group of service organizations ever assembled to create the USA Freedom
Corps Network. The USA Freedom Corps Network includes America's Promise, the
Points of Light Foundation, The United Way, Volunteer Match, ServeNet and many
other organizations; will be the most comprehensive clearinghouse of volunteer
opportunities ever assembled. This network will enable you to find volunteer
opportunities within your neighborhoods and communities, and in countries around
One of the main reasons people give for not volunteering is that no one has
asked them to do so. Another reason, they don't know where to start. Well, today
I'm asking each of you to serve your country -- and, through the USA Freedom
Corps Network, you've got a place to start. (Applause.) All that remains is
for you to answer the call to service. I hope you do -- and I believe you will.
A life of service isn't always easy. It involves sacrifices, and I understand
many other things will lay claim to your time and to your attention. In serving,
however, you will give help and hope to others. You will -- your own life will
gain greater purpose and deeper meaning. You will show your love and allegiance
to the United States, which remains what it has always been: the citadel of
freedom, a land of mercy, the last, best hope of man on Earth. (Applause.)
And so to the graduates of Ohio State University: Congratulations on your achievement.
I want to thank you for this honorary degree. I leave here a proud member of
the class of 2002. (Applause.) I leave here confident that you will serve our
country, and a cause greater than self. May God bless you your families, and
may God bless America.