Choosing Their Words
Members Prepare to Deliver Commencement Speeches
Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) has sat through enough commencement addresses to know how to spot a long-winded speech in the making — it usually beings with a joke about how it will be a short one.
It’s that experience that leads the Evergreen State lawmaker to pledge that his own remarks at commencement ceremonies this month — he is scheduled to speak at both Washington State University in Vancouver and Centralia College — will be held to a brief 10 minutes.
“It won’t be a political speech. I don’t think it’s appropriate to make a political speech or a policy speech at a commencement address,” said Baird, the former chairman of Pacific Lutheran University’s department of psychology. “People aren’t at commencement addresses to hear from a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent. They’re there as graduates to receive their degrees and as families to honor the graduates.”
Like many of his colleagues in both the House and the Senate scheduled to give addresses at graduation ceremonies this spring, Baird will focus at least in part on the importance of public service.
Baird said he will discuss the responsibilities of a college education, noting that: “It’s about giving something back to the community and doing your part to make the world a better place.”
Rep. Mark Green (R-Wis.) plans to stress leadership in his address Saturday at the University of Wisconsin at Marinette.
The lawmaker will focus on the “need for graduates to stand apart from the crowd and go forth and do important things,” said spokesman Chris Tuttle.
To inspire students, Green may cite such examples as former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill or the founder of a Green Bay, Wis.-area food bank.
Similarly, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who attended ceremonies at the College of Wooster and is set to speak at both Massachusetts’ Lesley University and New York’s College of New Rochelle next week, will focus on commitment to public service, while also reflecting on his own experiences in the civil rights movement, according to spokeswoman Candice Tolliver.
“You have a mission, a mandate and a moral obligation to do what you can not just to make America a little bit better but make our world a better place, a world at peace with itself,” Lewis told graduates at the College of William & Mary on Sunday, where he shared the stage with Queen Noor of Jordan and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Not surprisingly, many Members, including Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar (R), have chosen to focus on current events, such as the Iraq conflict and the war on terror.
The Foreign Relations chairman focused on issues, including the proliferation of nuclear weapons, at recent addresses at Indiana University at Bloomington and Denison University in Ohio, the lawmaker’s alma mater.
“Our power and status have conferred upon us a tremendous responsibility to humanity. If the world is to be secure and just and prosperous, the United States and individual Americans must devote themselves to international leadership,” Lugar said in his addresses. “Some of you will choose the calling of diplomacy, politics, humanitarian work or military service. You all must know as doctors and lawyers, teachers and entrepreneurs, artists and economists, musicians and engineers, clergy and scientists that you can contribute greatly to achieving a more just and secure world.”
Lugar is scheduled to speak at the University of Notre Dame on May 18.
Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.) also touched on U.S. relations with foreign nations at Nebraska’s Peru State College on Saturday.
“On a day like today it is, I believe, important to remember the responsibilities that come with our American legacy — especially to remind you who are the younger generation of Americans going forth with educational advantages,” said Bereuter, a member of the International Relations Committee, who is scheduled to speak at Doane College on May 18. “We Americans, by heritage, have a lot to live up to and must continue to have before us that constant agenda to improve our democracy, to spread the benefits of democracy throughout the world, and the conditions of our fellow man.”