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A turn of the tassel, and off they go

Commencement speakers exhort graduates to live as global citizens and to maintain 'quickness of sympathy.'

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Anna Quindlen

Novelist, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist
Colgate University, Hamilton, N.Y.

I can predict, with what I think is considerable accuracy, this about the century to come:

It will be remarkable because its history will be shaped and written by a group of what promise to be truly remarkable human beings. You're what demographers named the millennials, born between 1975 and 1994, 70 million strong, the biggest bump in our national line graph since the baby boomers. For my money you are a great bunch.

That's not the conventional wisdom about your generation, if you read newspapers and magazines. It's littered with negatives. The younger members are said to be spoiled, overindulged by guilty working parents, powered by the timpani of medication and video games. The teenagers are associated in the public mind with lewd music, foul mouths, and one school shooting after another.

Born after Watergate, Woodstock, and Vietnam; heirs to the microchip and the cathode ray tube; under pressure from parents who are high achievers or wish they had been; in a world in which seemingly endless choices, good and bad, swirl like flakes in a snow globe; you live a life that the one-size-fits-all generations before you can scarcely imagine.

The dutiful son has a pierced tongue, the student government president dresses like Morticia Addams. Where once we could identify who was who by the college, the color, the crewneck sweater, now the lines of identity are constantly blurred. I suspect that you're going to need this spirit of individual inquiry and self-confidence as you grow along with this country.

Samuel Butler once said, "Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes along." Look in the mirror tonight. Who is that man? Who is that woman? She is the work of your life. He is its greatest glory.

So pick up your violin and lift your bow and play, play your heart out, live well, because you are our role models.

John Herrington

NASA astronaut
South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Rapid City


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