18 July 2006

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

An incredible commencement speech by high school math teacher Rob Cornell that implores graduating students to open their minds to questions about what defines a "good America".
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 Conventions - 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?

Controversial, yes. But Cornell, who was selected by a majority of students to give the speech, challenges his students to go beyond the talking points.

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 four or five 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.

Cornell's speech incited a flurry of reaction, but I believe it to be a great one, stressing the importance of an "open mind".


Extremely good post Naum...and I agree 100%.