Bob Kerrey's Commencement Address
Bob Kerrey encouraged the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s December graduates to ask tough questions, say “yes” when others say “no,” take time to enjoy the little things in life and hold fast to thoughts of home. The former U.S. senator and former Nebraska governor delivered the undergraduate commencement address, “Thoughts of Home,” Dec. 15, 2018 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
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[00:00:00.051]To the chancellor, to the faculty, the staff,
[00:00:02.771]and especially the students, I do want to thank you all
[00:00:06.420]for inviting me and welcoming me back home.
[00:00:09.891]To the graduates, I have a confession.
[00:00:11.862]I apologize if what's up there is different
[00:00:15.087]than what's on here, but I'm in the habit
[00:00:16.627]of writing a speech and then not giving it,
[00:00:18.183]so I'll try to give most of it that I've written.
[00:00:22.204]My original title, my wife, I think wisely,
[00:00:24.889]talked me out of it, was "Why You Shouldn't Listen to Me."
[00:00:29.276]It seemed appropriate, I gotta say,
[00:00:31.290]because other than respiration and other bodily functions
[00:00:34.440]and the shared experience of attending and graduating
[00:00:38.040]from this great university,
[00:00:39.629]we probably don't have that much in common.
[00:00:42.516]There was a comedian that many of you probably don't know,
[00:00:44.664]but I do, called Martin Mull, who was recently asked
[00:00:47.803]what it's like to be 75, which happens to be my age,
[00:00:51.395]and he answered, "Well, it really doesn't feel
[00:00:53.413]much different between my ears than when I was 35,
[00:00:57.899]but when I get up in the morning it feels
[00:00:59.471]like I'm living in a used car."
[00:01:01.791]Well, I have the same feeling.
[00:01:04.503]I am running out the clock on the fourth quarter of my life,
[00:01:08.233]and you are entering the second quarter
[00:01:10.081]with a very good lead.
[00:01:12.303]When I was invited to speak today, I said yes
[00:01:14.732]because I do owe a lot to my alma mater.
[00:01:18.292]I didn't say yes, I say to the graduates,
[00:01:20.353]because I was brimming with great ideas
[00:01:21.983]that I was anxious to hand to you this afternoon,
[00:01:24.481]as you are about to discover.
[00:01:26.863]Like you, I graduated in the middle of the academic year.
[00:01:30.800]I was working at the time and finished the last three hours
[00:01:33.210]of my necessary credits for a bachelor's of science degree
[00:01:37.863]through a correspondence course.
[00:01:39.953]I didn't get the day off and didn't attend the ceremony,
[00:01:43.822]and, shortly afterwards, thanks to a federal law called
[00:01:46.673]"mandatory selective service,"
[00:01:48.489]I was given a free physical examination in Omaha.
[00:01:52.027]Afterwards, I was told by my government
[00:01:54.213]that they had decided they had a higher and better use
[00:01:56.703]of my skills than practicing pharmacy and I ended up serving
[00:02:00.031]in Navy SEALS Team 1 and was sent to Vietnam.
[00:02:05.202]Like so many of the turning points of my life,
[00:02:08.093]serendipity played a much bigger role
[00:02:10.373]than long term planning.
[00:02:12.471]No doubt that conquering the fear of saying yes
[00:02:15.093]is the most difficult thing all of us have to do
[00:02:17.733]when an uninvited opportunity suddenly arrives.
[00:02:21.311]No doubt learning to ask for help is every bit as important.
[00:02:25.721]Rugged individualism works in a John Ford movie,
[00:02:29.080]but it has never worked for me.
[00:02:31.490]I like the power of a team, of unselfish collaboration.
[00:02:36.356]The best example of this was the moment
[00:02:38.210]that I saw my two older children being very good parents.
[00:02:42.530]That was the day in my life when I realized
[00:02:44.580]that I had done alright.
[00:02:46.970]It is my single most important and enduring accomplishment.
[00:02:50.890]And the team that made that possible included their mother,
[00:02:54.039]their friends, their college professors,
[00:02:56.370]adult mentors they trusted.
[00:02:58.679]You cannot buy a roadmap from AAA that tells you
[00:03:01.788]how to travel the long, winding road of parenting.
[00:03:06.359]That's why I would ask the graduates here to stand
[00:03:09.290]and applaud those remarkable parents and other loved ones
[00:03:13.050]who are here today and who contributed to
[00:03:15.140]this impressive moment of your accomplishment.
[00:03:17.768]Please stand and give them a round of applause.
[00:03:32.103]I do admire and congratulate you,
[00:03:37.284]and am sincerely proud of your accomplishment,
[00:03:40.007]and I have sincere hope for all of your happiness.
[00:03:43.554]I hope you'll have the courage
[00:03:44.852]to ask uncomfortable questions.
[00:03:46.902]To seek answers that may cause you to discover
[00:03:48.834]that something you've believed for a long time is not true.
[00:03:52.834]I hope you'll be the one, when everyone is saying no,
[00:03:55.293]will stand and say yes.
[00:03:57.735]I hope you'll fall in love with Willa Cather
[00:04:00.044]and Mari Sandoz and Wallace Stegner and Ted Kooser.
[00:04:03.103]All four, and others, knew this place.
[00:04:06.541]The dry, semi-arid high plains.
[00:04:09.484]They knew the myths and they knew the realities
[00:04:11.781]of everyday life here.
[00:04:14.114]Their stories and their poetry will make you grateful
[00:04:16.724]to have gone to college on the prairie.
[00:04:20.015]I hope you know that some losses are not explainable.
[00:04:23.855]They can only be endured through faith,
[00:04:25.952]friends, and a determination to go on.
[00:04:29.543]Life is worth living.
[00:04:32.072]The miracles around us are easy to miss,
[00:04:34.554]but wonderful to discover.
[00:04:36.754]Close your eyes and listen to the music you love.
[00:04:39.975]Get up before the sun and watch the magic
[00:04:42.143]of the color coming back into view.
[00:04:44.564]Plant something and watch it grow.
[00:04:46.975]Buy a number two Ticonderoga pencil
[00:04:49.396]and use it to sketch something you see.
[00:04:52.433]Write a letter to someone you haven't seen for a long time.
[00:04:56.201]Surprise someone with the nourishing
[00:04:57.972]and priceless gift of unexpected kindness.
[00:05:01.732]Don't be so certain you know the answer.
[00:05:04.639]Store a little doubt in a safe place
[00:05:06.772]to keep you honest and healthy.
[00:05:10.041]Be a good friend by being there when someone needs you.
[00:05:13.729]It's more likely they will be there when you need them.
[00:05:18.847]Last page, folks.
[00:05:20.448]One more poetic thought from the first stanza
[00:05:22.620]of one of my favorite poems, from Miller Williams,
[00:05:25.580]the Shrinking Lonesome Sestina.
[00:05:30.171]"Somewhere in everybody's head ... "
[00:05:32.903]"Somewhere in everyone's head, something points toward home,
[00:05:38.586]"a dashboard's floating compass, turning all the time,
[00:05:42.548]"to keep from turning. It doesn't matter how we come
[00:05:46.978]"to be wherever we are, someplace where nothing goes
[00:05:51.401]"the way it once, where nothing holds fast
[00:05:54.641]"to where it belongs, or what you've risen or fall to."
[00:05:58.801]The poet's advice is mine as well.
[00:06:01.580]Hold on fast to thoughts of home,
[00:06:03.860]and think of the words chiseled
[00:06:05.532]into our capitol building here in Lincoln.
[00:06:07.822]"The salvation of the state is watchfulness of the citizen."
[00:06:11.302]When it comes to watchfulness of our government,
[00:06:13.732]none of us gets a free pass.
[00:06:16.041]The dog cannot eat our homework.
[00:06:18.948]And now, I need to stop.
[00:06:21.092]I may have violated the promise I made to myself
[00:06:23.081]not to stand up here like an old fart,
[00:06:24.782]talking about all the good old days.
[00:06:27.150]They were good,
[00:06:28.510]but I believe the days ahead of you will be better.
[00:06:31.502]At least, that is my fondest wish.
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