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TEXT: Jon Huntsman's Speech to Southern N.H. University Class of 2011 TEXT: Jon Huntsman's Speech to Southern N.H. University Class of 2011

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Politics / Politics

TEXT: Jon Huntsman's Speech to Southern N.H. University Class of 2011

May 21, 2011

Talk about putting somebody on the spot. The only announcement I have here today is to say is that your President, President LeBlanc looks pretty, pretty darn studly in the bling that he's got around his neck.

I want to do something before I start here - I want to have my two daughters stand up. I have Gracie and Elizabeth who are here. I'd like them to stand up, I'd like you to know who they are and I'd like them to raise their right hand. Raise your right hand girls - I promise that from now on I will only refer to my dad as Dr. Huntsman. You may be seated.

I want President LeBlanc to know as well that we were sitting in a great restaurant down the road called Shorty's talking about you yesterday. People had some very complimentary things to say about your terrific leadership.

 

To those who are graduating, to David, we salute your service. Marek, it wasn't so bad my friend, was it? And those themes that you brought out and articulated were terrific. You might hear a little bit more about that in a minute.

To students who are in the military, David Wilson, to veterans in the crowd, to combat wounded, to Nathan Yates, who I just was able to meet in the back room, overcoming all of the odds to be here today - you are awesome.

Amber - you're going on to become a pro tennis player, but promise me this: you don't lose that smile that lights up the entire room.

So for all of you who are here, may I say to all in the class of 2011: you did it, we're very, very proud of you and congratulations.

What a terrific accomplishment, I also understand that SNHU has a few international students, in fact fifty to sixty different countries represented here, among them about 150 Chinese students who are graduating.

So to them I say: (Speaks In Mandarin)

Now the rest of you are just going to have to figure out what I just said. It may take you a while.

Another thing I want to do is thank this University for giving an honorary doctorate to someone whose initial passion in life was simply to be a rock and roll musician. I thought it was my ticket to fame. I even ended up leaving high school a bit short of graduation to play in a band called Wizard.

You probably have some of our songs or maybe not, since there were never really any Wizard songs, at least publicly released.

But I did have the rocker look. Rod Stewart's shaggy hair. Super skinny jeans, that when I tell my kids about it, they absolutely gag.

I had a cool, grungy van-an ugly, green Ford Econoline that I gutted to hold all of our equipment along with the band... who sat in the back on folding chairs. So every time we would turn those corners, the entire band would slide across the floor, hitting the wall.

Come to think of it, the sound of those chairs screeching across the floor was probably almost as the music we produced.

But, you know, I feel like I've finally made it. Elton John played this very arena. and Sting and Rod Stewart and yes, Justin Bieber . . . and now me. Who's next, Lady Gaga?

So for all of these reasons, I'm feeling pretty darn good today.

Three weeks ago, I stepped off the plane from China, after living in that dynamic country for two years. Coming home after living 10,000 miles away gives you a certain perspective.

I have lived overseas four times before and don't worry, I have a U.S. birth certificate.

But every time I live in a foreign place I've learned something about America.

On returning this time, I'm finding how pessimistic many Americans are about this country's ability to adapt to the future. They point to global economic trends, the lack of jobs, the incomprehensible debt, the bitterness in Washington, the wars that seem to never end, the environmental and natural disasters.

You hear how the Chinese economy is going to swamp us. Don't believe it. China has its own problems. And we have our own strengths. I mean there's a reason that Google was started in America and not Russia or Germany or China.

Anyone who has bet against this country long term has lost his money.

So let me tell you why I think you all should feel optimistic as you receive your degrees today and move to the next phases of your lives.

To tell you about America, I need to talk for a moment about China.

In an apartment that was barely a step up from homelessness, I recently met a petite, magnetic, impoverished Chinese woman by the name of Ni Yulan. I would frequently meet with dissidents. Emotionally, this was the most powerful thing I did-or could do-as ambassador. Sometimes I would go to them. Sometimes they would come to the Embassy. We did this quietly. It was a real peril for them, and it also closed some official doors for me.

But Ni Yulan became an activist trying to protect her family's hutong home from the wrecking ball. From this cause-which she lost, by the way-she went on to commit her life to justice and basic human rights.

She has been repeatedly detained and tortured, so much so that I found her with her legs broken, her entire body immobilized-trapped in a disheveled one-room apartment, hardly large enough to hold her wheelchair. On that cold winter day just a few months ago, her water, her heat and her power had all been shut off. The only thing that worked every now and again was her Internet connection on an old laptop computer.

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.

This woman, unable to walk without assistance, was viewed as a public threat. Just weeks ago, she was rounded up and charged with creating a public disturbance. No one knows where she is now.

I do know this . . . she drew her strength from our nation's values-the openness, the freedoms of speech, assembly, religion and press. A woman in a dark, dingy room half a world away could see this country's light. That is the power this country still represents.

Developments like Twitter and Facebook are bringing democratic momentum to autocratic countries, such as we saw in the Arab Spring uprisings recently. All of the drones in our arsenal could not have accomplished what the Arab people themselves did armed with Twitter and Facebook.

Here at home, listening to cable news 24/7, it's easy to forget that our nation still pulses with a vital, life-enriching energy that comes from the very freedom we breathe. The dissidents around the world see this. Sometimes we are too close to really appreciate its impact.

We still have the power of our values, the power of our technology, the power of our innovation and the power of our entrepreneurial culture.

If we Americans remain civil to each other we can deal with our problems, including the debt crisis that hangs over all of us. After the shooting in Tucson when Representative Giffords was injured, we talked seriously as a nation about civility. Many Republicans and Democrats even sat together at the State of the Union.

Remember that?

Now, if we can just sit together and solve our problems.

I believe America's values are stronger than her challenges. This country truly does have the democratic and economic resiliency to change without breaking. And civility acts as a lubricant to make the system work.

Finally, the financier and statesman Bernard Baruch once said that during his 87 years he had witnessed a whole succession of technological revolutions, but none of them had done away with the need for character in the individual.

I would add that none has done away with the need for character in a nation. This nation has that character, and the world knows it. And that is a very great strength.

In fact, part of America's character is renewed every spring at commencements like this where new graduates take their place as educated and contributing citizens.

You see this is not only a good day for you graduates. This is a good day for America.

Graduates, as you prepare to receive your degrees, know that each of you has our warmest congratulations and our most heartfelt best wishes. And remember, the world will be watching. Congratulations graduates.

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