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To the graduating class of ...

Congratulations to each and every one of you, who, through diligent attention to your studies, through hard work, determination, and in many cases, good luck, have achieved an essential element of that great American dream: a college education; a degree from a prestigious and accredited university. This is not only an American dream, but a dream for all civilized people everywhere in the world.

Your degree will open doors to opportunities that are not available to those who do not possess one. You are now among the elite of the nations; the best, the brightest; the educated. And, you now have the documentation to prove it.

However, although you may have thought otherwise, the truth is that your true education is just beginning.

I say beginning, because most of you have yet to master the most important skill of all: how to think. It is true that you know how to study, you know how to research an assigned topic, you know how to argue persuasively, and you know how to pay attention.

But, do you know how to form your own opinion, based on facts, even in the face of extreme peer pressure, in spite of your own ego? Do you truly understand the many levels of human motivation that may be behind the assertions made by many? Are you able to objectively examine your own beliefs? Are you even interested in facts, in truth? You have learned much. You have been told much. Undoubtedly, some of what you have learned is not fact; it is unsubstantiated and unjustified opinion.

Most of you are young. You are energetic, idealistic, compassionate, sincere, eager to show the world how to do it right. Some want to go out and change the world, to make it a better place for all. Some are interested in personal success. Some want to be respected, or famous, or feared. Some want to be left alone.

The world has no shortage of deceivers, demagogues, and deluded “leaders”, who want your unwavering support and loyalty. If you are unable to think for yourself; if you base your decisions and beliefs on your emotions, then you can become the pawn of those who can arouse passionate emotions within you. You would become like a member of a cult – always supporting whatever you are told is right, without even knowing why. Think of the millions who supported fascism, Nazism, communism, because each of these causes had eloquent spokesmen who aroused passion in their followers, and promised a better life for all. Think of the billions who blindly follow religious ideas and traditions, without even thinking about the reason they do so. Think of the unspeakable suffering of humanity throughout the centuries, and even occurring at this very moment, because of blind devotion to political, cultural, and religious institutions and ideas.

This world is indeed a mess. If you listen to some, the end of all humanity is near. Insurmountable problems seem to be facing us. Religious fanatics seem poised, even anxious, to cause the destruction of millions, of billions of their fellow human beings. Tyrants have set their sights on ruling the world, or at least large parts of it.

The list of the world’s ills is long. It seems like you have inherited inconceivably difficult problems to solve. But, it has always been like this. In all ages, mankind has been faced with problems, the mere contemplation of which can leave one weak, trembling, and despairing. There has always been a wolf at the door, waiting to devour. Yet, somehow, we manage to survive.

Over time, most things have gotten better. But what our ancestors and forefathers have achieved over centuries, and millennia, can be lost in a single generation, if we allow it. And, once it is gone, who can say how many centuries will pass before we get it back, if ever? We, you, must continue the fight for what is right, for human freedom. Freedom to be what we want to be. Freedom from fear. Freedom from those who would dictate how we should live and what we should think. Freedom from dogmas; physical, economic, and intellectual slavery. Every child, every little girl and every little boy born into this world must have every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment that the world can provide.

Thornton Wilder wrote: "I've never forgotten for long at a time that living is a struggle. I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for - whether it's a field, or a home, or a country."

Every good and excellent thing. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. As Americans, you are heirs to a great tradition of liberty. Cruel policies have been made, atrocities and great injustices have been committed in our nation, and by our nation. We must see where we have been wrong, and admit it. We should not let that stop us, though. We must go forward, promoting the ideals upon which America was founded; political, economic, social, and intellectual liberty for all. Justice, peace, and security.

Now go forth, as leaders among men and women, as true thinkers; challenge your own beliefs, examine every assertion, be willing to admit that you may be wrong. Listen to the arguments of intelligent advocates for each position. Weigh the facts. Let your dedication to truth motivate you to dispassionately decide, based on the facts. Let compassion and idealism be your guide, but do not deceive yourself because you wish a thing to be true.

You have your whole life ahead of you. Spend that life wisely, for you only have one.

Do something important.

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