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What they told the class of '88. On giving back to your country

THE abuse of public office for private greed is not recent. It is far older than the corruption that we are now routing out in our own state - but it is also as new as the urgent, seemingly endless crisis of ethics at the highest levels of national power. The issue is not partisan. If we step back from it, we have to ask ourselves: ``Why do so many public officials now think they can get away with so much?'' I think their conduct merely reflects a more pervasive reality; the loss of respect for the law flows from a lost sense of obligation - an obligation not only to avoid doing wrong, but to meet a higher standard of concern and involvement.

The decade of the 1980s has, in too many ways, sanctified selfishness - and invited us to believe that the buck is the only bottom line.

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Maybe this was the natural reaction to a generation of change, all of it difficult and some of it disappointing. Maybe there were so many marches, so many programs, so much money spent - while solutions sometimes proved harder than we thought - that the nation had to pause for a while. Perhaps in the cycle of events, it was time to try less as a society, and to think more about our separate selves.

I am not suggesting that it is wrong to pursue personal success. But I do believe that is not enough - that the measure of our lives must be greater than a statement of our net worth.

And I do believe that each of you, in your own way, can make a contribution. Each of you can give some time, some energy, some help in projects that involve more than profit. And all of you can have a part in reshaping the public climate - in reaffirming and reinvigorating the power of conscience and the relevance of public purpose.

From an address given at the University of Mississippi

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