Thursday, May 24, 2007


A friend sent me a link to Bill Moyer's recent graduation speech at SMU. It is posted on It is outstanding and untypical as graduation speeches go. Here are a few poignant excerpts:

NOT ORDINARY TIMES. "My young friends, you are not leaving here in ordinary times. The ancient Greeks had a word for a moment like this. They called it 'kairos.' Euripedes describes kairos as the moment when 'the one who seizes the helm of fate, forces fortune.' As I was coming here to Dallas today to ask what you are going to do to make the most of your life, I thought: Please God, let me be looking in the face of some young man or woman who is going to transcend the normal arc of life, who is going one day to break through, inspire us, challenge us, and call forth from us the greatness of spirit that in our best moments have fired the world’s imagination."

MEMORABLE MOMENTS. "You know the spirit of which I speak. Memorable ideas sprang from it: 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness'…'created equal'… 'government of, by, and for the people'…'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself'…'I have a dream.' Those were transformational epochs in American politics, brought forth by the founding patriots who won our independence, by Lincoln and his Lieutenants who saved the Union, by Franklin Roosevelt who saved capitalism and democracy, and by Martin Luther King, martyred in the struggle for equal rights."

NEED FOR TRANSACTIONAL POLITICS. "These moments would have been lost if left to transactional politics—the traditional politics of 'You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.' But moral leadership transcended the realities at hand and changed the course of our history. Never have we been more in need of transformational leadership."

A WAR WE CAN't WIN. "America’s a great promise but it’s a broken promise. It’s not right that we are entering the fifth year of a war started on a suspicion. Whatever your party or politics, my young friends, America can’t sustain a war begun under false pretenses because it is simply immoral to ask people to go on dying for the wrong reasons. We cannot win a war when our leaders don’t have the will or courage to ask everyone to sacrifice, and place the burden on a few hundred thousand Americans from the working class led by a relative handful of professional officers. As is often said—America’s not fighting the war; the American military is fighting the war, everyone else is at the mall. Our leaders are not even asking us to pay for it. They’re borrowing the money and passing the IOU’s to you and your kids."

CONSTITUTIONAL PRINCIPLES UNDER ASSAULT. "America needs fixing. Our system of government is badly broken. You are leaving here as our basic constitutional principles are under assault—the rule of law, an independent press, independent courts, the separation of church and state, and the social contract itself. I am sure you learned about the social contract here at SMU. It’s right there in the Constitution—in the Preamble: 'We, the People'—that radical, magnificent, democratic, inspired and exhilarating idea that we are in this together, one for all and all for one."

COLLABORATION OVER COMPETITION. "Through the years... we human beings have advanced more from collaboration than competition. For all the chest-thumping about rugged individuals and self-made men, it was the imperative and ethic of cooperation that forged America. Laissez-faire—'Leave me alone'—didn’t work. We had to move from the philosophy of 'Live and let live' to 'Live and help live.' You see, civilization is not a natural act. Civilization is a veneer of civility stretched across primal human appetites. Like democracy, civilization has to be willed, practiced, and constantly repaired, or society becomes a war of all against all."

GLARING DISPARITIES. "Think it over: On one side of this city of Dallas people pay $69 for a margarita and on the other side of town the homeless scrounge for scraps in garbage cans. What would be the civilized response to such a disparity? Think it over: In 1960 the gap in wealth between the top 20 percent of our country and the bottom 20 percent was 30 fold. Now it is 75 fold. Stock prices and productivity are up, and CEO salaries are soaring, but ordinary workers aren’t sharing in the profits they helped generate. Their incomes aren’t keeping up with costs. More Americans live in poverty—37 million, including 12 million children. Twelve million children! Despite extraordinary wealth at the top, America’s last among the highly developed countries in each of seven measures of inequality."

WHAT'S A CIVILIZED RESPONSE? "Our GDP outperforms every country in the world except Luxembourg. But among industrialized nations we are at the bottom in functional literacy and dead last in combating poverty. Meanwhile, regular Americans are working longer and harder than workers in any other industrial nation, but it’s harder and harder for them to figure out how to make ends meet…how to send the kids to college…and how to hold on securely in their old age. If we’re all in this together, what’s a civilized response to these disparities?"

WHO WILL HELP US? "America’s a broken promise. America needs fixing."

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