I love the commencement ritual.I love the joy on students faces. I love the pause between celebrating what has been achieved and facing what waits just around the corner. And I love the commencement speech, which tries to mark that achievement and give students a watchword or two as they turn that corner.
This past weekend, I had the honor of delivering such a speech to the class of 2010 at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.
My message was simple: Let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.
I believe this message can help us find our way out of what must be recognized, sadly, as an age of acrimony.
Look, serious debate is what makes our democracy work. And politics in America has never been for the faint of heart. But, even so, partisan rancor feels worse today. We attack each other’s motives instead of contesting each other’s ideas. We obsess over who’s up and who’s down, rather than finding ways we can work together to move forward.
Disagreement is fine. But we can choose to let it lead it to dialogue, not disrespect.
In Congress, Senator Obama and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye on every single issue. But we shared the conviction that Americans can disagree without being disagreeable. We shared the conviction that the common good is more important than individual political persuasion. And we shared commitments to listening and learning, to treating people fairly and with respect, to not letting the perfect prevent us from making progress when possible.
And, when President Obama asked me to serve in his Cabinet, I enthusiastically agreed. Because, by inviting me--a lifelong Republican--to serve with him, he signaled a desire to put aside partisan interests and work together to move our country forward. And, like I've said many times before, there are no Republican bridges or Democratic highways.
Now, for many kids who come to college, it may be the first time they've encountered people who are different from them. But through their shared experience, they come to know each other. Living in dorms together, studying together, playing on sports teams together, volunteering together, they learn to treat each other with civility and mutual respect.
The students at Loras have differences, but they achieved what they achieved despite those differences. And, in part, because of them.
You don't produce a Dance Marathon, and become the first college with an enrollment less than 2,000 to raise more than $100,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network and University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, without working together. You don’t advance to two consecutive soccer Final Fours without learning to put the team’s goals ahead of individual ambitions. You don’t earn a place on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll and not understand your obligation to do good and do well.
The Loras class of 2010, like this year's graduates across America, can teach us something about putting aside differences and accomplishing common goals.
I just hope we're listening.