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‘Stand for Freedom’

SPRING is a time of celebration for graduates of the nation’s colleges. It is also a time for speeches. National security advisor Condoleezza Rice, former President Clinton, President Bush and financier George Soros were among those offering advice to this year’s crop of graduates. What follows are excerpts from their remarks. In the interest of readability, we haven’t indicated where material has been omitted, but we have provided website addresses for full texts of the speeches after each excerpt.

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George W. Bush

Concordia University, May 14

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IN the Lutheran tradition, all work should be done to the glory of God. And that is accomplished by doing our work with excellence and care and an awareness of the needs around us. A person shows his or her character in kindness and charity. And what is true in our lives is also true in the life of our nation. You can fairly judge the character of society by how it treats the weak, the vulnerable, the most easily forgotten.

Our own country, at its best, strives to be compassionate, and this isn’t easy. Compassion involves action and effort, and deep conviction -- a conviction as old as Scripture and present at the founding of our country. We believe that everyone has a place and a purpose in this world, that every life matters, that no insignificant person was ever born.

Our greatest failures as a nation have come when we lost sight of our compassionate ideals -- in slavery, in segregation and in every wrong that has denied the value and dignity of life. Our greatest strength as a nation is that we bravely face our flaws and do our best to make things right. Our greatest successes as a nation have come when we broadened the circle of protection and inclusion. And this work is not finished. We will press on until every person shares in the promise of our country.

America needs your efforts and energy in the fight against poverty and despair. A compassionate society does not look away from a man being dragged down by addiction, or a mother being abandoned by the father of the child, or boys and girls with no role models in life, who wonder if anyone cares about them. These personal tragedies are often failures of love -- and they must be answered with love and caring and kindness. Government can play many important roles, but it cannot take someone’s hand and be their friend. You have that power. If you follow this calling, you can help transform our society, one heart, one soul at a time.

Around our country, there are so many people with loving hearts who despair at the suffering they see around them. And so I made a decision: Instead of ignoring or resenting religious charities and faith-based groups, this country will encourage these good works in every way we can. The federal government now allows faith-based groups to compete for billions of dollars in social service funding, without being forced to change their identity and their mission. We must support the best, the most effective sources of compassion and hope -- and we will not discriminate against people of faith.

America needs your good heart in meeting a basic responsibility: to protect and honor life in all its seasons. A compassionate society shows a special concern for those at the beginning of life, those at the end of life, and those who struggle in life with disabilities. Most of you, at some point, will be called to care for a dying relative, or a frail and aging parent, or someone close to you with a terrible sickness. Often, in their pain and loneliness, they will feel they are nothing but a burden and worthless to the world. You will need to show them that’s not true. Our worth as human beings does not depend on our health, or productivity, or independence, or any other shifting value the world might apply. Our worth comes from bearing the image of our Maker.

The hardest times of your life may be the most important, when you bear witness to this truth by your sacrifice and kindness to another soul.

This commitment to the value of every life also challenges our society. Technologies that have extended life also make treatment decisions harder at the end of life. New methods of research hold promise in treating disease. These innovations show the resourcefulness of humanity, and they must be guided by all the wisdom of humanity. Our standards must be high and clear and fixed. Life is not just a tool, or a commodity, or a means to other ends. Nothing good or just can be built on the destruction or suffering of others.

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America needs your idealism to show the good heart of our country to the whole world. The moral ideals of America are also universal. Because we believe in the rights and dignity of our own citizens, we believe in the rights and dignity of people everywhere.

So in Africa and elsewhere, we are leading the fight against AIDS and other diseases. Where there is famine, our country provides food. Where there is desperate poverty, our country provides developmental aid. Where there is natural disaster, even in hostile nations, America is eager to help. And where there is tyranny, America works and sacrifices for peace and freedom. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world; it is the almighty God’s gift to all humanity.

At this hour, our fellow citizens are sacrificing for the security and freedom of Afghanistan and Iraq. Their mission is like others we have given to past generations in our military: to defeat the violent and rescue the innocent. The mission of our military is also vital to the interests of America: We will not allow Afghanistan and Iraq to fall under the control of radicals and terrorists who are intent on our own destruction. On these matters, the compassion and the vital interests of our country speak as one: For the sake of peace, for the sake of security, we will stand for freedom.

The great events of these historic times can seem remote and beyond the control of individuals. Yet we have recently seen how much difference, for good or ill, the choices of individual men and women can make. In Iraq, the cruelty of a few has brought discredit to their uniform and embarrassment to our country. Yet those failures cannot diminish the honor and achievement of more than 200,000 military personnel who have served in Iraq since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The character of the men and women who wear our uniform has been shown in countless acts of goodness and decency and unselfish courage. Our American military comes from all parts of the country. Six are members of this graduating class.

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One person can do so much harm, or so much good. One person can show the compassion and character of a whole country in an hour of testing. Never doubt that you can make a difference, because the call that comes to you is yours alone. And a great deal depends upon your answer.

The full text of President Bush’s speech can be found at www.white house.gov/news/releases/2004/05/ 20040514-4.html.


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