In the days past and the weeks to come, hundreds of thousands of young men and women will don a robe, switch their tassel from left to right on their mortarboard and walk off the stage with their high school or college degrees.
They will be of a rainbow of colors and nationalities. They will practice myriad religions or none at all. They will come from every socio-economic background imaginable. However, in that moment, those solemn minutes, they will be one.
In the past week, President Barack Obama reminded predominantly black Morehouse College students that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preceded them, and because he did, this nation elected one who looked like them.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told Kenyon College graduates, “your generation is reshaping society…making your values known and your voices heard.”
Arianna Huffington, editor and chief of the Huffington Post, challenged students to redefine success.
“Our society’s notion of success is largely composed of two parts: money and power,” she told graduates of the prestigious Smith College.
“But its time for a third metric beyond money and power,” she said. “One founded on well being, wisdom, our ability to wonder and to give back.”
Melinda Gates told Duke University students to look beyond the money and understand they are all one.
“There is life and there is everything else,” she said.
Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Nicholas Kristof told Syracuse University students not to be afraid to engage in a cause that is larger than themselves. He pointed out that if not for two men standing outside of a Cleveland home, three young women would still be captive.
“I think all of us would have felt a little uncomfortable about trespassing on somebody’s private property to go up on that front porch and ask what was going wrong,” he noted. “And of those two men did just that…and everything changed.”
My grandmother once told me a story about my father, her son-in-law, repeating the mantra that one person can make a difference.
Bedridden by a number of strokes and paralyzed in her left arm, this diminutive woman had only her imagination to satisfy her dreams of the world. It was then she hit upon an idea.
She reached out to travel and visitor bureaus across the state and the country. She wrote to foreign capitols and received in return hundreds, if not thousands, of replies with travel brochures and booklets.
She organized, with the help of more able-bodied neighbors, a tourism venue at her small-town Iowa library, opening the imagination of all who visited. Community members, moved by her vision, would send her mementos of their trips to places she could only imagine.
She brought the world to them and they returned the gift.
It’s my hope today’s graduates, including the thousands who will hold their diploma from Shelby County-area schools, understand that this is the beginning of an extraordinary journey; one filled with enormous challenges and bigger opportunities.
Amidst these seniors of area high schools and colleges will be doctors and lawyers, athletes and architects.
They will become mothers and fathers, entrepreneurs and store clerks and all shall impact the community in which they live.
President Barack Obama reminded Morehouse graduates that Dr. King enrolled while only 15 years of age and impacted the world through his words and deeds.
Bloomberg noted that because of young people such as themselves, the world has become more accepting of all people no matter the race, gender or orientation.
My grandmother reminds us that my father was right. We all can make a difference.
I urge you to embrace their words.