Text of speech delivered to University of South Carolina Class of 2011 provided by Huntsman campaign.
Thanks President Pastides, you make me sound pretty cool. I’m glad some family members were here, as a matter of fact, to hear that. Thank you Liddy for being here.
To Trustees, the faculty, to parents, to you students, I am flattered and honored to be here today and I assume it’s because I know a little bit about the south.
You see, I’ve spent the last twenty eight years of my life with the south, my wife Mary Kay, who is sitting right over there. You’d be pleased to know President Pastides that I don’t even need an interpreter now when I meet with my in-laws. I know my wife is going to kill me for saying this, but I lost complete faith in my father-in-law to be – a good southern gentlemen – when I found out that at birth, he had been given the name Charles Floyd Cooper and chose to go by Floyd.
So last Saturday at midnight, I lost my security clearance when I transitioned out of being the United States Ambassador to China. So, maybe you think I can now tell you all a little bit about the highly sensitive secrets of foreign diplomacy.
(PICTURES: Political Commencement Speakers)
Well, guess again, the real secret about diplomats is that we are trained to say something when there is nothing to say, and to say nothing when there is something to say. We are forever locked between a cliché and an indiscretion. So, even though my immunity has been revoked, I thought I’d err on the side of indiscretion today and try to find a few honest words about choices ahead and finding a successful pathway in life. Because tomorrow you will start finding your own pathways.
But today you’re closing an incredibly important and expensive chapter in your life. So no matter what else I say today, I hope you remember this: congratulations graduates, we are very, very proud of you.
You see, life isn’t a straight and narrow route. Life is full of turns, hills, alleyways, sometimes even cliffs, lots of speed bumps and potholes. Some pathways are by design. Others are more random. Some stick to the script. Others like to improvise. Every one of you sitting here today could tell a different story about how you arrived here at today’s commencement exercise, and for most of you, you’re just beginning the first chapter of your life.
(PICTURES: Possible GOP Presidential Contenders)
So what do you want your book of life to look like? How do you want it to read? How many chapters will there be? Will it be fiction or will it be non-fiction? Heroic or romantic? Comedy or tragedy? Starting the minute you wake up tomorrow, it is totally up to you.
One thing I’ve learned is that your life will never be complete until you find your most deep-rooted passion. And you’ll never find your passion until you learn to follow your heart. The one thing that drives you and inspires you and motivates you.
So, promise me this, starting today quit asking others what they think you should be. Ask yourself and follow your heart. It’ll never let you down.
My initial passion in life was to be a rock-n-roll musician. In my late teens you wouldn’t have recognized me. My hair was Rod Stewart shaggy; I wouldn’t wear anything but super skinny jeans, I ended up leaving high school a bit short of graduation to play with a band called Wizard. I thought it was my ticket to fame.
We rolled in the ugliest green Ford Econoline van you could ever imagine with fold up chairs in the back. It was pretty awesome until those inconvenient intersections, curves and stoplights caused those chairs to move around just a little bit. Seat-belts weren’t exactly enforced in those days.
Well Wizard didn’t make it, but I’ll never regret following my passion.
Sometimes we take America for granted. Sometimes we forget we have the freedom to pursue any passion—while many in this world do not.
I recently visited a very humble apartment of a Chinese woman named Ni Yulan. Ms. Ni is a petite, magnetic and impoverished wife, mother and lawyer who chose the pathway of activism. She has committed her life to calling for justice and fairness in a system that lacks the basic human rights that we in America believe are fundamental.
She has been repeatedly detained and tortured so much though that I found her with her legs broken, her entire body immobilized, trapped in this disheveled one room apartment, hardly even large enough to hold her wheelchair.
On that cold winter day her water, heat and power had all been shut off. The only thing that worked every now and again was her Internet connection, on this old, hand-me-down laptop.
So here was the battle: one physically broken woman with a passion and belief in her cause – up against a government, with the most formidable security apparatus in the world, determined to keep her silent.
So, who won? Just weeks ago Ms. Ni was rounded up and once again forced into an unknown detention facility, charged with creating a public disturbance. This woman, unable to walk without assistance, was viewed as a public threat. She gives me strength. She follows her passion. To me, Ms. Ni wins.