Thursday, June 15, 2006

Read this commencement speech given to Corvallis High School Seniors

A shining illustration of what is wrong with our high schools. They are infested with people who hate America, such as this clown.

2006 Commencement Speech by Rob Cornell

I set up a chair on the front of the stage and while I am being introduced sit with my laptop open and my ipod on. I take out a cell phone and pretend to text message. Jay calls my name and then has to come over to get my attention. I sheepishly close my laptop and phone and shout into the mike. Sorry, I had to take that call … then realize I am shouting and take out my headphones. Quietly I say I had to take that call Mr. Conroy – it was my mom.
To the class: “You have been called the M-generation because of your ability to multi-task. However, in your lives you will be faced with many situations that demand your full attention – be sure you are ready and able to give it. Let’s all practice, right now. If you would please put away your cell phones, blackberries, game boys, ipods, and, of course, your calculators, I have some comments I would like to share with you.

Good Evening and a Spartan welcome, bienvenidos to all. I am deeply moved and honored that you have chosen me to share this milestone in your life journey. The moments we have shared, as students, teachers, and friends have shaped and defined who we are …… And I love who you are. In you I see warmth, compassion, strength, integrity, playfulness and joy. In you I see hope. I only wish we, my generation, could have given you an easier road to travel. We owe you an apology for leaving you wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, global warming, a massive national debt, an earth that has been plundered, a toxic environment, corrupt politics, corporate greed, and an increasingly polarized country.

The French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, a champion of liberty and democracy in the early 1800’s once said: "America is great because she is good. If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

Consider if you will the following points:
Would a good America have a policy of pre-emptive war? War is a brutal and barbaric way to solve a problem. Unprovoked, we attacked a sovereign country with the headline “shock and awe”. That headline should have read “death and destruction”. One of the latest justifications of the war is “we are fighting terrorists there so we don’t have to fight them here”. That means we Americans are using Iraqis as human shields. Conservative estimates put the Iraqi civilian death toll at about 40,000 for our war.

Would a good America have policies that ignore longstanding international laws such as the Geneva Convention - Policies that condone torture and extraordinary rendition and allow lengthy imprisonment without rights?

Would a good America, the land of freedom and equality, deny that freedom based on race, gender, or sexual preference?

Would a good America allow wealth to accumulate in the hands of a few while many go hungry? And then pass tax cuts and laws that strengthen this disturbing trend?

Politicians and corporate spokespersons argue that the average American is doing very well. As a mathematician I cringe when I hear the word average used in this way. If you were standing with one leg immersed in a bucket of liquid oxygen and the other in a roaring fire, a statistician would tell you that on average the temperature is just fine. Look – Sean Hunter just pulled out his calculator. I can see him thinking, “Let’s see, if we consider the specific gravity and density of oxygen at 1 atmospheric pressure… Mr. Cornell that average would …” ….. Sean, put away your calculator ….. The point is: There is rising inequality in American’s economic well being. The top 10 % of Americans own about 70% of the nation’s wealth while the bottom 50%, one half of America, owns only 3%. Sarah McLachlan in her song World on Fire sings “The more we take the less we become. The fortune of one man means less for some”.

Would a good America support maximizing profits from our planet’s resources regardless of environmental degradation? Corporations export factories and jobs to third world countries, exploiting workers and causing great harm to local environments, at times receiving tax breaks for doing so. Corporate farming practices may keep food prices low, but cheap food has a price. That price is being paid by the horrible suffering of animals and the catastrophic damage done to your planet’s land and seas.

Would a good America have a government that seems to be more interested in serving the needs of big business than the needs of the individual? The number of registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C. increased from 16,342 in 2000 to 34,785 last year. That is 65 lobbyists for each member of congress. No wonder oil companies are given huge new tax breaks at a time of record profits and credit card companies are helping to write new bankruptcy laws. Enron could not have perpetrated its energy scams without the help of new legislation enacted by our elected officials. Many agencies, created to protect public interests, are now headed by former industry lobbyists.

Has America ceased to be great? It’s a question worth asking and a discussion that needs to take place. Alexis de Tocqueville also observed that it is easier for people to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.

In this day of the 30-second sound bite you are fed many simple statements. You must decide their degrees of truth. Quite often these statements take the form of “talking points” repeated over and over and over and over ….. Most minds like these short, often repeated phrases. They require little effort and often reinforce our belief that America is good.

What are the complex truths? I am not telling. Finding them is your last homework assignment and it is not an easy one. The media, by all accounts, is controlled by 4 or 5 major corporations. The next battle, one that is currently being fought, is over the freedom and flow of information on the Internet. I hope you will seek an in-depth source of news that pursues truth and presents all sides of any issue. Only then can you decide for yourself - and this will take much longer than 30 seconds - what parts of America are good and what parts need to be fixed.

I’ve always told my students that the most important thing they can take from my class is confidence in their ability to solve problems. The solution to any problem, regardless of how insurmountable it may seem, begins with the smallest step, the smallest of beginnings. Take that step and see where it leads.

I have painted for you a world in crisis, but it is not a world without hope. Crisis is opportunity. Even the smallest moment of your lives is an opportunity for you to shape the world around you. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.

The way in which you live your lives impacts the world every day. You must make conscious, informed, and healthy choices with an awareness of how those choices affect the people and environment that surrounds you.

Be an educated consumer. Eating local organic foods and walking or riding your bike more will not only contribute to the solution of several crises we are facing, but will lead to better health.

Take an active part in your government. Be an engaged voter and citizen. Know the issues. Give voice to your concerns. Participate in civil disobedience when necessary. It’s your country. Don’t accept the argument “that’s just the way things are done”.

There may be great sorrow in the world today, but there is also great joy. Each of us has the ability to find peace within ourselves. Meditate, pray, or find another way to have quiet reflective moments. Express yourself creatively. Find work that feeds your heart and soul as well as your pocketbook. (Play with the students a little here) Math is not the most important part of your life. Breathing is. Learn to breathe.

In closing, I’d like to share a brief story about Gandhi. In one of his many travels, he was asked by a reporter at a train station if he had any message he would like to share with his people. He did not hesitate as he replied, “My life is my message.”

May your life be a message of love, joy and peace.

Thank you.
I love you.


Mick said...

Where is the part where he says he hates America? Seems to me he loves his country enough to point out the flaws so we can fix them.

John J. Pitney, Jr. said...

The Tocqueville quotation is fake. See

Rob Kremer said...

Mick - the part where he hates America is where he argues that America is no longer "good."

And for evidence of that he cites example after example of how America is not a socialist nation.

marcia7 said...

I would have to say that "love it or leave it" mentality went out with the Viet Nam era. The audience was Bush's new crop of cannon fodder. They have a right to listen to someone questioning the REGIME. And in my mind, since Bush took over, America is no longer Good. Bush, his cronies and his war are evil.

Col. Bullwink said...

Thanks Rob for calling our attention to another "nattering nabob of negativism." Spiro Agnew was right. Round up these teachers and ship them to Guantanamo!

Andy said...

Loving America and wanting to fix America are not contradictory sentiments. If Cornell was truly negative then he would have lost hope or worse, kept his mouth shut.

infantile comments said...

"Loving America and wanting to fix America are not contradictory sentiments"

Wow, how informative and clever.

I'll try it.

Loving America and wanting to liberalize it to death are contradictory sentiments.

jerry said...

Great speech! Thanks for putting it out!!!!

By your logic, calling the fire department when your house is ablze means you hate your house. Good thinking!


Anonymous said...

yes, it is a very nice speech. hopeful, optimistic. Teachers being shipped to Guantanamo huh? oh my. what a horribly negative outlook on the people who are supporting our youth. not much appreciation there.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic speech! Many thanks to the right-wing jughead who posted it.

newbie said...

Great speech! So long as patriotic Americans like this man are not afraid of the powers-that-be and have the courage to stand up and be counted there's hope for this country.

As for the boo-hooers and nay-sayers whose feelings were hurt, they should just hold their tongues while the adults are talking.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... More and more outrageous ideas are being put in front of students at younger and younger ages. I used to think it was college students who were at the greatest risk of this sort of mass-brain washing, but I can see it begins long before that.

It simply translates to:

'Let's all just think a happy thought and all the mean things will simply go away. - works every time, kids!'

'Oh, and if you must have an oppinion, it had better be mine!'

Anonymous said...

Rob Kremer: He doesn't argue that America is no longer good. He questions whether America is great. He notes, "It’s a question worth asking and a discussion that needs to take place."

To the last Anonymous poster: How does "Take an active part in your government. Be an engaged voter and citizen. Know the issues. Give voice to your concerns. Participate in civil disobedience when necessary," equate "Let's all just think a happy thought and all the mean things will simply go away"?

I may be just a student, but at my high school we are encouraged to think. I assume the same is true where Mr. Cornell gave this speech. After every "Would a good America," he made it clear that his answer would be "no." But he left the option open to say "yes." I don't know how well he would deal with a contradictory response, but the choice was there.

After reading this speech, I probably will not begin eating local, organic foods. Nor will I go to the courthouse this evening and hold a sign reading "Give Peace a Chance."

But I may try finding a quiet time of day to think. I may attempt becoming more informed. I may research some of the issues he mentioned and see what the other side is saying.

After all, this is my country, too.

Anonymous said...

What a great speach by Rob Cornell at CHS 2006 graduation. Enjoy your retirement Mr Cornell !