The Honorable Bill Nelson, Senior United States Senator Representing Florida
Welcome: Dr. Eastman, Miles Collier, Leonard and Naomi Block and guests.
You are graduating and beginning your life as young adults during a time of great change all over the world. The Internet and websites like Facebook and Twitter have allowed your generation to grow up connected to the world around you in a way that is entirely unique from generations before.
This ability to immediately connect across oceans, has caused change that few could imagine.
Anyone can have a voice and be heard on an international arena. Borders have been breached - literally and figuratively. What happens in Cairo, Abbotabad, or Port-au-Prince resonates back home on our TVs, computers, Blackberries and iPhones.
But, as you move forward in life I ask you to remember that this ability is a big responsibility as well. You must turn these virtual connections into real relationships and tangible change in your community.
Without that vital difference, without a distinct element of humanity behind each mouse click or e-mail, communication is wasted and the opportunity to create positive change is gone. The obligation to care about our fellow humans is more important than ever.
Your generation will face some tough problems, and it would be easy for you to adopt a pessimistic view of the world.
Financial failures, poverty, war, natural disasters, terrorism, racial tensions and religious differences all seem to threaten global security and prosperity. You are entering an uncertain world.
Here at home, we're just beginning to come out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. But, while we're starting to see some positive economic signs, many Floridians are still struggling with the housing market, unemployment and high gas prices, among other things.
We are also experiencing a time of great change and transition around the world. The yearning for freedom has given rise to unprecedented change - thus the Arab Spring.
Young people are taking to the streets demanding more from their leaders. The world has watched as unemployment, rampant poverty, and high cost of food sparked calls for democratic change and millions are inspired to act.
In the midst of this uncertainty, we must remember and celebrate our humanity.
Eckerd graduates have a long history of understanding that there's more to life than one's own self-interest.
Consider these impressive facts:
Ten Eckerd graduates are currently serving in the Peace Corps.
Eckerd students, many of whom are graduating today, donated nearly 74,000 community service hours to the Tampa Bay community during the 2009-2010 academic year.
We have two Fulbright Scholars in the Class of 2011. Rachel Chilton is one. Rachel double majored in International Relations & Global Affairs and Chinese. After graduation she's moving to Taiwan to be an assistant English language teacher. Elise Luce is the other. Elise is an Environmental Studies major and is heading to Indonesia to do research in performing arts.
We also have six students here that were named National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hollings Scholars at the end of their sophomore year. This scholarship helps prepare students for public service careers as educators in atmospheric and oceanic science.
We also have two graduates here today joining Teach for America.
Now, another fellow graduate, Angelina Garcia, is making two major steps today. She's walking across this stage - and down the aisle. Later today Angelina will be marrying Eckerd alum Jonathan Tennis. Jonathan, a civilian contractor, just returned from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Angelina and Jonathan, I wish you the best of luck on this very special day.
And 90-year-old Ellen Nizzi is also graduating today with a degree in creative writing.
Now, I bet Ellen's stories are some of the most interesting writings her professors have seen in a while.
I ask that whatever you decide to do, whether it be business, politics, arts or science, consider your humanity with the intent to make the world a better place.
If you choose science or medicine, spare some of your talent and time thinking of how you can help just one of the millions who cannot afford health care. Consider, perhaps, volunteering to help disaster victims or underprivileged children here at home or abroad.
If you become an entrepreneur, spare some of your talent and your time to help others who have big ideas and few resources achieve their dream of owning their own small business.
If you become a lawyer, take time to lend your legal talents to those who can't afford representation.
You all have the power, and the tools, to make a significant difference.
My frame of reference was formed from the window of our spacecraft 25 years ago . . .
So, to the class of 2011, go forth from this place, pursue your dreams and make your mark in the world.
Whatever your path, remember that one day it will be your deeds that will inspire others - and from those deeds comes our great hope.