After 60 years of living, I still do not have all the answers to life. But I have learned some things. I’d like to share five lessons I have learned over those years that might be of some use to you as you look forward from this day.
Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Twain said it very well.
Lesson 1: Take risks and seek new experiences. Nothing worth having in life comes without the risk of failure. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failing to try is worse than failing to achieve. Your generation will have more options than any generation of Americans. Take advantage of them. Seek out new challenges.
“...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic— the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done.”
Lesson 2: Do what is ethical, not just what is legal. Too often, especially in Washington, we define our standards of conduct by legality. We blow past the ethical boundaries. There is a difference between ethical and legal conduct. Hold yourself to a higher standard than simply what you can get away with. Don’t play on the legal edge. Don’t cut corners. Compete with yourself...and you’ll always be honest with yourself.
During your life, when you are faced with difficult decisions, almost always, you will know that the right thing to do...is the right thing to do. Do it. Listen to yourself and be guided by what you believe is right. Standing against the crowd and doing what you think is right may be very lonely at the time, but it will serve you well over the long haul.
“Laws control the lesser man. Right conduct controls the greater one.”
Lesson 3: Continue your education. The University of Nebraska has given you a tremendous start in life, but it is only a start. Do not lose your sense of curiosity and quest for improvement. Read, read, read and then read some more. The world in which you will be working will be more competitive than any generation has ever known. Education is a lifelong pursuit...it will prepare you professionally and enhance you personally. Remember, that you will be limited professionally if you hold back personally.
“Learning from experience is a faculty almost never practiced.”
Lesson 4: Give something back. Every graduate here today has traveled a different path, but you all have something in common. You all benefitted from living in a country that allowed you the opportunity to receive a first-rate education. That shared bond also comes with a shared responsibility to give something back to your country. Whether it is mentoring a child, serving in the military, running for office, or volunteering for a noble cause, this country will provide you countless everyday meaningful opportunities to give something back to society. Patriotism is an old fashioned value, but it never outlives its time. We all have an obligation in life to help make a better world for all people.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
Lesson 5: Remember what really matters in life. We live in an age of instant communication and gratification. In many ways this has made our lives easier to live and more productive than ever before, but the constant challenge for you in this “immediate world” will be to ensure that it does not diminish the things that are most important in life. Everyone who will walk across this stage this morning is here because family and friends helped you get here. In life, it is family and friends that matter most. Do not forget that.
Don’t hold back your enthusiasms or dim your passions for your beliefs, loves and interests. Commit yourself fully, knowing that life will at times be unfair– but will always even out in the end. Regrets are painful to live with. You’ll have some– but you don’t want too many.
“It's faith in something and enthusiasm for something that makes a life worth living.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes
You are graduating at a special time. The world is undergoing a historic time of transformation and redefinition. These great moments in history come about twice in a century. Embrace this time to be alive and engage yourself in every part of it. Think of the opportunities you have to help shape the future of mankind. You will have the opportunity to do more good, for more people than any generation in the history of man. Don’t squander it.
The longer you live, the more you will realize that the two indispensable requisites in life are character and courage. Life is not worth much without them. The currency of life is trust– a product of character. The spirit of life is faith– a product of courage. Never lose them. For no matter the depth of despair or the difficulty of the dilemma– they will see you through. Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “character is higher than intellect.” This too you will come to recognize more and more.
We’re proud of you. Congratulations. You’re now Huskers for life!
Monday, December 18, 2006
Senator Hagel's address at UNL
The commencement address at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln this December was delivered by Chuck Hagel. Here is his speech, from his Senate website.