Speech at Washington and Lee University

Lexington, VA | September 17, 2002

If our world is to enjoy peace and avoid war for a long time, your generation is the one which has to work to make that dream come true.

President Tom Burish
Provost Larry Boetsch
Harlan Beckley, Director of The Shepherd Poverty Program
My good friend, Cabell Brand, no one has a better personal insight into the workings of a broad-based anti-poverty program than Cabell Brand 
Ted Edlich, President of TAP
My former colleague, Andy McCutcheon, one of the first enlisted in our "War Against Poverty"
My good friend, David Bradley. No one has done more to keep the "War on Poverty" alive, and fresh in the minds of individuals
Faculty, students, and friends of Washingto.n and Lee University:

First of all, I wish to congratulate Washington and Lee on its innovative, imaginative Shepherd Poverty Program.

You are giving your students the joy which can only be experienced when we give of our time and talents to others.

I hope that the Shepherd Poverty Program will be replicated around the country and around the world

Tonight, I'd like to address my remarks to the students of Washington and Lee.

I have chosen a simple but rather unusual message for you. It's just this: "I wish I were you!," not because I wish I were young again, but because you young men and women are the best placed, and the most qualified, to make the 21st Century what it should be, a new unified, compassionate, courageous and peaceful Century! That is not to say that someone over the age of 60, 70, or even 80, such as myself, could not contribute something meaningful to the world. Cabell Brand is doing just that! Not content to rest on his laurels as a successful businessman and creator of Total Action Against Poverty, TAP, and although now retired, he and Shirley are busier than ever, devoting their time, talent and considerable energy to The Cabell Brand Center for International Poverty and Resource Studies of Roanoke College. But you college students are the ones I am counting on to start creating a new and different world for tomorrow.

If our world is to enjoy peace and avoid war for a long time, your generation is the one which has to work to make that dream come true.

In my day, our challenge was only to win victories just for our own country. And there were parts of the world, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Northern and Central Africa, where battles were being fought only to save one country threatened by greed from another. But, there will soon be many places in the world where you, young people, will be called on to establish new boundaries, new roles and new ideas in order to create a New World, intellectually, and bring it into existence politically.

Here at this great University, you have benefited from an excellent educational process and superb teachers. You also learn about those fellow citizens in your own State who have not received the same opportunities which have been given to you, and you can learn how you can help them, so that, hopefully, they will break the cycle of poverty which engulfs many of them. I hope that this will enable you and inspire you to create a "New World" in and for the 21st Century. But, I think you must seek to create a common humanity, rooted in a common existence in order to resolve worldwide problems, together, with all the younger men and women in the entire world!

I hope, therefore, when you leave Washington and Lee you will believe and adopt in your hearts and souls what Martin Luther King said: "You ought to believe in something in life, and believe that thing so fervently that you will stand up for it everywhere till the end of your days!"

And I hope whether you become doctors or lawyers, teachers or technicians, fathers and mothers, parents or politicians, I hope you will think about and work for Peace, Peace Peace!

Here at home there is an unease and a fear that drives the public debates and our public policies in ways that divide us one from one another. Elections are run by those who seek so-called wedge issues that prey on misinformation and demonization of the opposition.

We hear that illegal aliens are taking our jobs, that women get the work that should be going to men, and some minority groups are described as lazy, violent, and ignorant

And when we see successes among us, the immigrant family which has fled oppression abroad and found opportunity in America, the African-American or Latino who has risen to national prominence, the woman who has become a leader in her field, too often we also hear muttering that they didn't really deserve what they got, that their success was not due to hard work, sacrifice and ability, but to something called "quotas" or "Affirmative Action".

I believe we must seize every opportunity to eliminate those who use the public discourse to spread that kind of misinformation and sow the seeds of disunity among us.

We cannot continue the tremendous story of American achievement with liberty and opportunity for all, if we fight harder at denying our diversity than we do in seeking out all the talent we can obtain from the greatness of our diversity.

In short, I believe we must face our future with a vision based on the best qualities of our successful past, and the greatest demands of the challenging future. No nation should be better than ours in this struggle for economic success with political and religious freedom for all. From that vision I believe we must shape the public and private sector policies that will lead us toward the fulfillment of our destiny, and not into the darkness of isolation from one another and from the rest of the world community.

Fundamental philosophic, religious and economic beliefs can still help to provide the foundation for the years ahead. But the problems you will face are different in nature, not just in size, from those faced by old men like me. Nationalism, jingoism, great power, chauvinism, individualism, old-fashioned liberalism, populism, conservatism, none of these alone or together will be sufficient for the future. Instead you must seek to create a common existence, rooted in common humanity, which faces worldwide problems requiring common solutions acceptable for and by all.

Some people think that poverty can be overcome by and from the top of society, that government or business or science can improve the human condition primarily by creating excellent administrators, or by stepping up the production of autos, or developing new vaccines, or by creating new intellectual thinkers. But, I think, real, profound changes and deep improvements both trans-national and trans-racial have to come from the depths of society, from the confrontation, recognition, and respect between all persons. That is the reality we learned in "The War Against Poverty." It is the reality which motivated us to create Community Action where each and every one works for the combined good of all. It is the reality which the Shepherd Poverty Program teaches us.

But, I do not pretend to have all the answers. But together we can find answers if we are guided by the same vision of where we want to go and what we want to be. It is a vision of freedom, of fairness, and fulfilling work that will shape the policies and humanities necessary for all.

This country was founded upon our famous Declaration of Independence. It made us successful. But now all nations, in order to come together and be successful as one world, must make a "Declaration of Interdependence". Every nation must strive to play a more active role in resolving and overcoming recessions wherever they are and whenever they come. And we must turn away from confrontation or competitive negotiation with all other governments different from our own.

The irony of our world today is that we have everything we need to achieve such objectives. We have the people and the resources; the political, religious, and personal freedoms; the technology and the philosophical traditions; we have everything we need today, except visionary new leadership, with open-minded and open-hearted experienced men and women.

What we need is a rallying together, a mutual struggle, not just a commitment to our country's candidates, but a commitment of all world citizens to one another, and to an entity which will represent us all, individually and collectively.

We must never forget that everything we do and say has the power to affect others that even our smallest actions can have a ripple effect that reaches around the globe, for better or worse. Remember that each and every person must act and build with everyone else in mind! It sounds simple, I know. But how often do we lose sight of that truth?

We get so caught up in our own struggle for success, materialism, and personal gain that we forget the true meaning and purpose of our existence! It is not just about me! It not just about you! It should be about us! All of us! How can we work together for the common good?

Now more than ever we shall depend on one another for our very existence! We are not just Americans, or Jews, or Muslims, or Catholics, or rich, or poor, or famous, or obscure. Yes, some of us still wear these labels today, during our short existence here on earth. But we must bequeath to our children and grandchildren a world where there will be only two choices: Peace or Death. As for me, for my children, my wife, and my friends, I choose Peace.

What our world needs now is a "Call to Peace and to Service" Peace and Service on a scale we have scarcely begun to imagine. In the profound words of Jacques Maritain, "It is not by the sword that deliverance comes to nations; the sword cannot breed peace, it can only impose terms of peace". The only forces that are to renew the earth must proceed from within, from the spirit!

Every one of the old people like me are looking to and praying for you, the young leaders of tomorrow to renew the earth in spirit, in brilliant, unprecedented ways. Many foolishly believe that the Power of Youth comes from your physical vigor and stamina, but I believe real strength must come from your psychological advantages, your religious convictions, and your idealism! Your belief that anything is possible combined with the energy to go out and make it so: That is the power and enthusiasm of youth! So, please, unleash the power of all young people from all nations to see the world as it is now and then change it for the better! Let's join in common cause with all countries to eradicate poverty and militarism.

For our goal, please remember, is not just the survival of a single country. It is the survival of our whole planet! When our deeds match our ideals, we will be living life as it ought to be lived! This is not just an old man's dream it is a universal need!

"To bind all human beings together in a common cause to assure peace and survival for all". That is a mission worthy of the New World, a World worthy of all humankind And, today there is no possibility of saving life for all, except through Peace for all!

Someone wrote once that the old man wants peace and quiet; the middle-aged man wants love and respect; but the young man wants challenges! Well, you are possessed of two things above everything today: You are well-educated and you are young! So, I leave you with these challenges: The challenge of The Peace Corps, the Challenge of Community Action, The Challenge of "TAP"; the challenge of The Shepherd Poverty Program. The challenge to listen to an eloquent cry, the most eloquent cry of all human beings in distress here in Virginia, across the USA and all over the world.

Then, and then only, will we have a new Century, a 21 St Century never before in existence, but a World created by all, safe for All, approved by all, and thus blessed by God with liberty and justice for all.