The following is the text from my remarks to the Class of 2021.

Good afternoon, graduates. Pride is an inadequate word to describe my feelings about the Class of 2021. Your school district is proud of what you have done, the storms weathered, the energy to keep moving ahead regardless of the situation. While your community is proud of your past, we are thrilled about your future. All commencement speakers talk about the future, but this year is different.

You are entering adulthood as we exit what historians call a mass disruptive event. Previous mass disruptive events were followed by a burst of innovation across all segments of society. Regardless of what you have planned next, you will influence how our society evolves in the coming years.

How will you make the most of this opportunity? I encourage you to use it to improve our collective humanity by committing to making a difference for others. I mean this in two ways: how you choose to spend your career and how we treat each other.

I encourage you to embrace public service for at least a part of your life. Serving in health care, human services, the military, public safety, governmental services, and yes – public education – can help build a better future for everyone. We are at a pivotal moment in our country’s history. Today, I invite you to reflect on President Kennedy’s immortal words from his inaugural speech. His call to action is even more crucial today than they were in 1961:

Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.

We need you to launch a new era of decorum and how we treat one another. We have developed a cultural norm that venerates rude, callous, and hypercritical attitudes. You can help us be different. You can model genuine kindness, integrity in word and action, empathy for every person.

You can model forgiveness – something our country needs right now to heal. How we treat each other, especially in the most challenging times, is a metric of a community’s strength. You can lead and help us correct our current course to a better and higher ground.

I have faith that our best days are ahead of us. That faith is primarily due to you. You are brilliant. You are engaged. You have shown you can act with a sense of purpose. You are committed to justice. I am asking you to use these tools to better our society through public service and by modeling basic human decency and respect for every person.

As you leave us today, know that we will miss you. You’ve made a difference here. Now, go and make a difference in the lives of others and the world. No pressure.

Congratulations, Class of 2021!


King, R. (2021, June 2). We will forever be changed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s just too soon to tell how. USA Today.