Tag Archives: public service

Deserving a place in an individualistic society

MemorialHallHarvard-cc-Wallyg

Flickr/wallyg

Kevin Carey, director of the education-policy program at the New America Foundation, writes in Chronicle of Higher Education the speech he wished the dean of admissions had given to the incoming class at Stanford:

Excerpts:

 I know this is an important day for all of you. You have spent years of your lives trying to get here. Driving into Stanford this morning must have seemed like living a long-imagined dream. And yet, I know many of you are nagged by something. …”Do I really deserve to be here?… Not yet.

[He said that they won’t deserve until they have served others, and they have largely thus far served themselves…]

“You had a lot of help, of course….Most of you came here from privileged places. It was hard to miss all of those late-model luxury cars lined up in front of the dorms this morning, disgorging your stuff. You’ve inherited financial and social capital that the average person can scarcely imagine….”

“Don’t mistake my talk of service for an appeal to your selfless nature. That need you feel to deserve what you haven’t earned? That is a craving that can’t be filled. That kind of desire will consume you in the end. You can choose otherwise.

So I say to you, on this brilliant day, in this lovely place, that while you do not deserve to be here, you could, someday. …[And] [w]hen you deserve it, come back to us. Share your service with your peers and your children. Then you’ll be part of our family. Then you’ll truly belong.

It’s a fitting tribute at a deeper level to the thanks that any of us who succeed owe to so many who have made that possible: our family’s efforts to nurture us materially, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually; the role of official or unofficial mentors or coaches along the way; the role of unofficial heroes to inspire us; the role of governmental policy in shaping and offering us opportunity or in enforcing rules that allowed us to succeed; the role of others in our neighborhoods and communities who trusted us or helped us or sustained us.

America is such an individualist-worshiping culture  that we are sometimes misled to believe that we each succeeded or didn’t on our own, when this is so extremely rarely true when one digs deeper in the life stories of humans.

Very nice calls to service by Oprah & Jon Murad (HKS) at 2013 Harvard Commencement

Jon Murad, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Kennedy School, is going off to be a cop in New York City.  His Graduate Student address  is a wonderful call to serve.

Snippets: 

“I’m probably not the only municipal cop in the country with 2 Harvard degrees, but I’m surely in a tiny cohort, but that’s not a boast but a lament. If there is something special about this place [Harvard] and the lessons that we learned here, and I believe there is, then America, the world needs people like you in these roles.  Because John Adams was dead wrong, success doesn’t mean rising to the top, it means changing the world. And here’s the secret: everyone changes the world, everything ripples. It’s how we do it that counts.

So how do we do it? Do you choose a job that serves others, as many of you have already done? Do you sign up to be a Big Sister? Do you check out Citizen Schools? Do you volunteer for Hospice? Yes…These things are the tab for your coming here when others could not. These things matter. These things may be better than making tons of money, although as a civil servant I wouldn’t really know. ”

In addition, Oprah Winfrey, the main commencement speaker, was cogent on life’s meaning.

“You will find true success and happiness if you have only one goal. There really is only one, and that is this: to fulfill the highest, most truthful expression of yourself as a human being. You want to max out your humanity by using your energy to lift yourself up, your family, and the people around you.”

The key to doing that, she said, is to develop your “internal, moral, emotional GPS that can tell you which way to go.” Oprah talked about her work with the Angel Network to assist victims of Hurricanes and other adversity and implored the Harvard graduates, armed with the latest technology to be their own Angel Network.

 

 

 

A lion of public service passes away: Sargent Shriver

Sargent Shriver, who inaugurated the Peace Corps in the early ’60s and shaped it for decades, led a life full of service to others. He passed away yesterday at the age of 95.  In an inspiring life, he also helped launch Head Start, the Job Corps, VISTA, and the Legal Services Corporation.  And he provided essential leadership to groups like the Special Olympics that his wife Eunice founded.

But more than anything else, he breathed life and vision into JFK’s immortal question “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  By enlisting the talents and energy of a generation of young Americans in the Peace Corps, he brought education, clean drinking water, housing, medical care to some of the poorest countries in the world, and helped the world to see Americans as a shining beacon of hope.

He often said: “”When our deeds match our ideals, we will be living life as it ought to be lived.”

During the JFK Presidential campaign, “Shriver, who had fought for integration in Chicago, helped persuade JFK to make a crucial decision despite other staffers’ fears of a white backlash. When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Georgia that fall, Kennedy, urged by Shriver and fellow aide Harris Wofford, phoned King’s wife and offered support. His gesture was deeply appreciated by King’s family and brought the candidate crucial support….

“He was a man of giant love, energy, enthusiasm, and commitment,” the Shriver family said in a statement. “He lived to make the world a more joyful, faithful, and compassionate place. He centered everything on his faith and his family. He worked on stages both large and small but in the end, he will be best known for his love of others.”  (Huffington Post)

Shriver said at a 1981 reunion for Peace Corps alumni: “The cure is care. Caring for others is the practice of peace. Caring becomes as important as curing. Caring produces the cure, not the reverse. Caring about nuclear war and its victims is the beginning of a cure for our obsession with war. Peace does not comes through strength. Quite the opposite: Strength comes through peace. The practices of peace strengthen us for every vicissitude. . . . The task is immense!”

With many thanks for a life richly led and to someone whose deeds did match his ideals.

See also Colman McCarthy’s “Sargent Shriver’s Grace” (Washington Post Op-Ed, 1/19/11); “What I Learned From Sargent Shriver” (NYT Op-ED, 1/20/11 by Bono)