My daughter, Ellen Green, wasn't selected to give this speech at her high school graduation ceremony, so I decided to give her an audience here. Because I'm the mom.
Tonight, we go into the wider world. In many ways, we are the most fortunate generation to do so, benefiting from the efforts of past generations. It is thanks to their ingenuity and determination that our phones have more computing power than the room-sized computers of our parents’ generation, with access to more information than anyone imagined just a few years ago.
Many of us here, too, have personal opportunities because of the dedication and the drive of past abolitionists, suffragettes, and other heroes who refused to accept the status quo. Through their efforts, we have dramatically expanded the circle of compassion and rights. Interracial marriage was illegal in our state until 1962. 1962! - within many of our parents’ lifetimes. These incredible changes have only come about because of the efforts of countless dedicated individuals, striving to bend their piece of the arc of history towards justice.
Yet the world is far from perfect. Our nation is still tottering back to its feet from economic collapse, the product of unfettered greed. We have grown up in a polarized nation. My right to control my body continues to be attacked, and fellow women continue to be subject to the wage gap and underrepresented in key areas of influence. Those of us who don’t fit the status quo of sexuality and gender remain unprotected from discrimination on a range of fronts. American citizens continue to die in the longest war in our history. And we continue to drive global warming with no regard for future generations.
In the face of these crises, we cannot afford to move unquestioningly through the world. We must get informed. One of the greatest opportunities given to us by past generations is the incredible availability of information. Let’s not take it for granted. We cannot afford to take political dogma as gospel, or let TV's corporate talking heads do our thinking for us. Let’s examine the evidence, question our politicians, fact check our news. It is easier than ever, if we choose to pull off the blinders of apathy and ideology.
We cannot afford to ignore facts. We must get informed.
We must get informed, and we must get active. After graduation, it would be easy to let ourselves be sucked into the endless pursuit of ‘more’ - more money, more cars, more stuff. But no one ever dies happy that they got the latest BMW. No one is ever remembered for that last bonus they received.
We can all seek something better than that, something larger than ourselves. We can be the next links in the chain of heroes who have bent the arc of history towards justice. We can be part of the chain that has included Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk. The arc of history will not continue to bend without our efforts. We must refuse to let it stagnate or retreat. History has not been kind to those who clung to fear and prejudice. Let us never forget that.
As we sit here tonight, we face this challenge, this enormous opportunity to lead a meaningful life and change the world for the better. History demands nothing less. Future generations demand nothing less. And we must demand no less of ourselves. Thank you.