Here's the graduation address I gave to UNM Political Science graduates on May 11, 2012.... Hope you like it...
Dr. (Bill) Stanley, Political Science Department faculty members, graduates, family members, friends, thank you very much for the opportunity to share a few thoughts with you on this very special day which comes for me as much at a cross roads as it is for you, and our country. Because, after 16 years, this year I am ending my political career in the New Mexico Senate. 16 years. That’s an even longer sentence than many of you, who today begin a new phase of your life, have served at UNM.
First of all, congratulations to each and every one of you—not only graduates, but families faculty, friends and the constellation of people in the community who support you. Today is a day when I hope you will see just how many people there are out here in the community who are pulling for you, who are proud of you and who believe in you. And although I know only a few of you, I count myself as one of those. And I know that my friend and mentor, Gilbert St. Clair, whom some of you may have known as the advisor to your department’s legislative intern program, is one of those too, even though he is not here today.
Almost 44 years ago, in another time of political turbulence—called the 1960s, I was in your exact seat. I had earned a degree in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania. And I had no earthly idea what I was going to do. I just knew that I was interested in Political Science—or at least it seemed so much more compelling than anything else. Politics seemed fast moving, dramatic, uncertain, and above all, important in determining almost everything about our lives from war and peace to death and taxes. I was curious, I was fascinated, obsessed. I was a news junkie, a groupie for my heroes in the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement and the print media. I read all about it.
But I had no earthly idea how I would earn a living with my degree. And in fact, I couldn’t get a job even with a Master’s degree in Poly Sci. I veered off into journalism, into high school teaching, into a small public relations company-- whatever it took to earn a few hundred dollars for work I enjoyed. I was thrilled when my first article appeared in the paper. It was about sludge. I was thrilled when the first political candidate I worked for won, even though it was only for the school board. And then-- almost 30 years later-- I found myself running for office, walking door-to-door, loosing, winning, then serving 16 years in the NM Senate. I just was just following my interest, with no end in sight, no burning ambition. And things happened, just like they will happen to you.
Now, I don’t know if political science is your passion, or even your interest. But it’s not a bad place to start, growing into a world of rapid change. You’ve seen a little of this rapid change already as the events of 9/11 shocked our world, and later when the political optimism brought on by the election of the nation’s first black president descended into partisan bloodletting and political gridlock. Meanwhile, the truly big economic and environmental problems your generation will face—wait in the wings while we try to overcome our political differences and develop the will to move forward together.
You will be crucial in that endeavor. I am counting on you. You know how it’s supposed to work—at least in theory. As we go into this year’s election season—which promises to be more divisive, more expensive than ever, due to Citizens’ United and the huge amount of undisclosed cash it has unleashed--- you have had a little training. You know how to check the facts, detect the lies, spot the spin and, for those of you who participated in the 2008 election, or the Occupy movement, or even the Tea Party,--how to join together in social networks, on street corners, at Starbucks, or outside the state capitol in Santa Fe. These things may seem small but they are what make a difference.
But that doesn’t mean you will do it. You may be turned off by a system where nothing important gets done and money talks with a forked tongue. And it’s no wonder that most people throw up their hands and that our country is suffering from a spiral of cynicism-- where every institution, every leader (except, of course, John Stewart and Steven Colbert) inspire suspicion, --not trust.
But I am here to help you keep hope alive. And link your future to our country’s revival. Now, at this moment in history when jobs for college graduates are hard to come by, and the prospect of the economic prosperity that our parents knew remote.
Here are my top seven tips on how to be all you can be while getting our community, our state and our country off the dime and back on track.
Number 1: Put it in perspective, dude. You might think that 2012 is a pretty tough year to graduate from college. But what about 1861, 1933 or even 1942 when graduates faced the draft, the war, the depression? All things change and change quickly. The war in Iraq is over, for us. Osama bin Laden is dead. Technology and information are the keys to prosperity, not manufacturing. China is on the rise. Today’s recession will be a memory in a decade. Stay loose, stay flexible, keep your powder dry.
Number 2: Have strange bedfellows. Now that may sound a little tacky, but it is the key to getting things done in the community and the political arena. And it will add more than zest to your friendships, to your projects and your work. Not all of your friends have to agree with you. The degree to which we retreat to our comfort zone is the degree to which we, as a nation, will not arrive at a budget compromise, we will not address forest fires, water shortages, or bring down health insurance premiums. But if we all get out of our economic or partisan silos, we have a chance to discover our common values. My own experience in the NM Senate, passing campaign finance reform, graduated drivers’ licenses, tobacco taxes and other public health measures, convinces me that these common values are still there-- if we are willing to talk, to compromise and to lay down our arms once the election is over. This is something I learned from former Sen. Billy McKibben, Sen. Alan Hurt, Rod Adair, Stuart Ingle and others-- all diehard conservatives who have been my allies on important bills—in spite of what their Governor, their party, and sometimes even their constituents, threatened.
Number 3: Don’t be afraid to have heroes. I know it sounds corny. And look for them in unexpected places… outside the movie theater or the sports field. I found one, unexpectedly at my doorstep two years ago. Her name is Jennifer Weiss, and she brought a group of parents to visit with me about the alarming epidemic of heroin overdoses among our high school students, and the abuse of prescription drugs like oxycodone and other opiods. Jennifer’s own son, Cameron was then in the throes of the addiction, and Jennifer had organized other parents to cope, to break through the stigma, to lobby for treatment programs and prevent future addicts. Jennifer lost her son to an overdose last fall—but she has not stopped fighting, not stopped appearing on TV and radio, alerting others to danger, pointing the way to a solution. I’ve found other heroes, too, on my travels on the internet, young people who created hugely important tools that help us determine what is really going on in our political life with websites like FollowtheMoney.org, or Fact Check.org which helps us check on the truth of campaign rhetoric. Now another old hero of mine, Kathleen Hall Jamison, a professor of Political Science at my alma mater has teamed up with them to create Flackcheck.org which exposes the psychological manipulation behind TV ads. It is because of people like Jennifer and web innovators like these that I have hope for the future.
Number 4: Follow your bliss. Steve Jobs dropped out of college, took a course on the only thing that fascinated him—calligraphy. He fooled around with computers, he got fired, he figured out that calligraphy was related to design, to fonts, to keyboarding. He succeeded. I was writing articles on sludge and loosing a city council election by 9 votes. Tavis Smiley was in prison. We all failed, but, as Tavis Smiley says in his new book we failed UP. Our failures, our diversions contributed to our successes. And we all followed our bliss.
Number 5: Remember that this is New Mexico. We have always pieced things together here with a pragmatic, can-do spirit that stretches resources and comes up with truly creative solutions. We are different. We build our homes out of the earth, we cooperate to irrigate our fields, we speak different languages, we have the landscape and the mountains, from whence cometh our strength. Look around every once and a while and remember where you are.
Number 6: Don’t forget that you have the decoder ring. Education. And that is power, power from the knowledge you have worked hard to accumulate, from your continued curiosity and energy. As the life of Jennifer Weiss bears out, courage and character count, one person can make a huge difference and even small gestures of kindness have impact beyond imagination. Don’t be afraid to exercise your power by participating in public life, expressing your ideas, doing a lot, or just a little. Because the world is made up of the little things, and no one makes a greater mistake than those who do nothing because they can only do a little.
Finally, Number 7: I hope you will develop what William Sloan Coffin called a Passion for the Possible knowing that the ideal may be just beyond your grasp but the good is near at hand and there are many opportunities out there to fulfill your dreams if you know how to roll with the punches. And there will be punches, there be losses. There will be roadblocks and gridlock. But things change, the road opens up, history does not run in a straight line. There is no longer a straight and narrow path to one job, with one skill set and one set of lifelong expectations.
I think you know that, many of you are returning or non-traditional students and that is precisely why I have faith that you will be there when the road does open up and you will find a way to contribute and succeed in today’s challenging atmosphere.
Congratulations again on your tremendous achievement and thank you so much for letting me share this great day with you.