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 So, even though my immunity has been revoked, I thought I’d err on the side of indiscretion today and try to find a few honest words about choices ahead and finding a successful pathway in life.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.
Never take for granted your freedom to chose your own destiny. Don'tmake the mistake of comparing your destiny to anyone else's.
It’s sure easy to look at someone else's Facebook wall and think that their life is somehow that much more put together. But, everyone has different battles to fight and surroundings in which to cope. You alone have the ability to be your best friend or your worst enemy. Embrace who you are and make yourself unique.
Like all of us, I’m a product of my place in history.
My earliest memories were Vietnam, civil rights, the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, and the assassinations of national leaders. It seemed to me like a time of great change…but it’s not really that different from today.
You see, your generation will have your own unique set of circumstances that make you feel like your future has somehow been derailed. Wars, economic recessions, social upheaval, revolutions around the globe…and yet, in each case, we recover, we learn lessons and become ever more resilient.
I know there are many in China who think their time has come, that America’s best days are over. And, there are probably some in this country who have lost confidence and think that China is the next best thing. But, these people aren’t seeing things from my earlier vantage point of 10,000 miles away.
The real test of a nation is not how well it does when times are good, but how well it does when times are tough. The way I saw it from overseas, America’s passions remain as strong today as ever.
So hold on to that sense of optimism. Hold on to that belief in yourfuture.
Our free and open society that can respectfully embrace debate, coupled with a free market system that rewards risk and innovation, is still the envy of the world. We are still as full of potential as ever.
Just remember this… When the oppressed are fighting autocratic regimes, they look to America for inspiration.
When overseas entrepreneurs build companies, they still look to the United States practices as the gold standard.
When young people around the world want to attend the best colleges and universities, where do they go? They travel here.
When playwrights, filmmakers and the creative classes abroad dream, their imaginations are fueled by America’s example.
So, the world you step into tomorrow, regardless of where on this globe you come from, should bring you excitement, not fear; anticipation, not anxiety. The prospect for breakthroughs in conquering human disease, lifting the poor from desperation and bringing about greater world peace…those are challenges worth your efforts.
Our system needs new thinking. We need a fresh generation of innovators, leaders, risk takers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and activists -- that’s you.
And, you’re not just taking ownership and responsibility for your own pathway, but for all of our futures.
One person whose pathway I want to celebrate today is my daughter, who is also graduating from college this month, and is here with me today. Liddy makes life look easy with her contagious laugh and energetic personality. But few know she has faced great adversity.
Liddy was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was just eight years old and she has spent every day since giving herself numerous insulin shots. There were times when she wanted to give up and call it quits…when life seemed so unfair…yet her courage and determination kept her going.
I want to dedicate my comments to her today. She’s an inspiration and a hero to me.
Before you officially step foot in the real world, let me leave with you just a few thoughts that I've collected over the years.
Number one - be you. Find the genius that is uniquely your own. Nurture it. It is your passion. Don’t let anyone drown out your inner voice. Take that leap of faith and trust your instincts. Your uniqueness can change the world. Don't stand in front of the mirror and try to look like everybody else. Be you.
Number two - remember others. The greatest exercise for the human heart isn't jogging or aerobics or weight lifting – it's reaching down and lifting another up. Find a cause larger than yourself, then speak out and take action. Never let it be said that you were too timid or too weak to stand by your cause. Learn what it feels like to give 100 percent to others. It’ll change your life.
Number three - embrace failure. Some of you probably haven’t landed the job you wanted. I’m sure many of you have faced hardships, I sure have. Failure only hurts if you can’t turn it into a learning experience that makes you stronger and wiser. Sometimes that momentary setback, that failure seems like the end of the world. My heart has broken more than once when friends of mykids, in moments of despair have taken their own lives. Please remember, when you encounter an obstacle in life, four of the most powerful words in the English language are, “this too shall pass.”
Number four - find somebody to love. You see, it’s life’s most powerful emotion. I first saw my wife across the courtyard in high school. I tried to get her attention by running for class president, I lost. It didn’t work. But, when we unexpectedly found ourselves working together at Marie Callendar’s pie shop, I had a little more luck. This dishwasher caught the eye of the saladgirl. I have a lot more loves now, too. Seven kids, including two adopted daughters, one from India, the other from China. We got to visit many of their orphanages and meet many of the women who cared for them while they were there. We saw how love can transcend race, geography, religion and class. Some people need friends, others need hope, and you’ll find some that just need love. Reach out your hand and give them your heart.
Fifth and finally, give back. As much as you’re able. Work to keep America great. Serve her, if asked. I was, by a president of a different political party. But in the end, while we might not all be of one party, we are all part of one nation, a nation that needs your generational gift of energy and confidence.
Never forget how lucky you are to be sitting here in America today, even with student loans and maybe a little uncertainty about your future. We live in the greatest, most freedom-loving place on earth. Embrace it.
You might not succeed the first time and you might fail a few times, but it will be the pathway you chose; no one else will force it on you.
One of my favorite musicians is Ben Folds. I love this lyric…
“I don't get many things right the first time.” You know the song. “In fact, I am told that a lot. Now I know all the wrong turns, the stumbles and falls brought me here. And I know that I am the luckiest.”
Be you. Remember others. Embrace failure. Find someone to love. Give back.
Never forget to rock and roll.
And in closing, I want to leave you with my favorite Chinese aphorism. I think it was from the Han dynasty long ago.
It’s one of those that doesn’t translate directly, but let me get as close as I can.
Now in English, it translates roughly into… And you may have to help me on this one…
“Go, Fight, Win...”
Best of luck graduates, thank you very much…