2008 Eckerd College Commencement Address
U.S. Representative Kathy Castor
President Eastman, graduates, family members, and everyone in the Eckerd College family, thank you for the opportunity to celebrate the graduation of the Class of 2008 and the 50-year tradition of the great Eckerd College.
Graduates, I salute your dedication and I congratulate you and your families on your accomplishment.
To prepare my remarks today, I could not help but reflect on the year of my graduation – 1988 – exactly 20 years ago.
A major issue on my college campus that year was divestiture of corporate and university investments in apartheid South Africa. Nobel Prize winner and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu gave my commencement address. Like this year, 1988 also was a presidential election year with Vice President George H.W. Bush facing Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. The summer Olympics were held in Seoul, South Korea. The Iran-Iraq War came to a truce after 1 million deaths. Benazir Bhutto was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Pakistan – the first woman to lead an Islamic-dominated country. The Perestroika economic reforms were initiated by Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev which began a wave of peaceful, grass roots revolutions in eastern Europe and an end to the Cold War.
It is difficult for me to believe that 20 years have passed. Yet, I look at the extra lines on my face and at my husband and daughters and know that it is true.
So here in 2008, I can tell you from the experience of someone who graduated 20 years ago, that you have many joys and challenges ahead. And in this time of such dynamic change in our community and our country, the sky is the limit for you.
In fact, many demographic studies show that you and your generation are a force to be reckoned with. The results from the presidential primary elections across the country this year also bear this out.
They call you the Millennial Generation and sometimes Generation Next. You are now the largest generation in our country’s history – larger than the Baby Boomers and larger than my Generation X. And for the older students in the class, your time around the younger students has kept you young at heart.
Recent commentators who have analyzed your opinions and trends believe you to be a civic-minded generation of doers and builders that will remake America. And we need your optimism now more than ever.
We have so many fundamental challenges today: lack of access to quality affordable health care, warming of the earth’s climate, and declining to commitment to excellence in education to name a few. Many families are struggling just to make ends meet. I will bet that a good portion of you graduate today with significant college loans to repay. The National Education Association recently told me that over 400,000 college-qualified high school graduates every year do not attend college because they simply cannot afford the cost.
You may be facing challenges that are more difficult than the Baby Boomers and Xers. These are times of real economic uncertainty. I have only served a short time in the Congress, but I am struck by the damage the policies of the past decade have wrought for our great nation, especially being bogged down in a war that was a colossal blunder at a cost approaching $1 trillion that has not been paid for, but instead has been put on a credit card and passed on with interest to you and future generations. These are resources that should have been invested in the physical and social infrastructure of America.
But I have hope and I have confidence in you. We all do. You are poised to bring great, positive change to our community and our country. You have come of age during an unprecedented revolution in technology.
When I graduated from college in 1988, personal computers and cellphones and email and the internet simply did not exist for us. Now with my Iphone I have it all right here and can take your picture too.
You will leverage these technological advances into greater productivity and new jobs and occupations that will modernize America and tackle the seemingly intractable problems of health care, energy and transportation alternatives.
The Center for American Progress released a study last week that says you are a politically active generation that cares deeply for bridging differences and seeking solutions.
Maybe that is because you are also the most diverse and tolerant generation in American history. This should give us all hope because it appears that you are poised to seek leaders who will unify the country and heal outdated divisions.
Many of you have traveled and worked overseas and you plan international careers. The Eckerd College emphasis on international cultural understanding and linguistics will serve you well as you enter the most globally integrated world.
So with a sober appreciation of the times in which we live, we should take heart – I do – that talented, young, inspired graduates like you are ready to accept a new responsibility to your community and country (and yourselves). We need you to reenergize the social, political and economic underpinnings of our community and our country with your great optimism and know how - with your cultural understanding and diversity. Carry the mantle well, be strong and have courage, as we will be watching you over the next 20 years and beyond.