Address at Yale College Class Day

"And I have one small word of advice because it is going to be tough: Break your mirrors! Yes indeed—shatter the glass. In our society that is so self-absorbed, begin to look less at yourself and more at each other. Learn more about the face of your neighbor and less about your own."
New Haven, CT • May 22, 1994

Secretary Samuel Herring, Dean Richard Brodhead, and Treasurer Michael de la Cruz:

Thank you Michael de la Cruz, for those kind words in your introduction. They were so good, I’d like to sign you up, in advance, to do my eulogy!

Speaking of eulogies, there is no better time than this very moment to ask everyone here to remember a famous woman. I speak of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. May the Yale Class of 1994, and all the world, remember Jackie with respect and even pride. May they face death, when it comes, with integrity and composure and trust in God just as she did three days ago. May the loving God give you and her peace and joy in Heaven for all eternity.

Despite these sudden, serious and personal comments, many of you may not know much about me, — not my past or my work, or my plans for the future. Nevertheless, I am a man of consequence, — the Sargent Shriver known everywhere as Maria Shriver’s father!

Or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s father-in-law!

But, I’ve never sought the spotlight. I always wanted to be private, remain in the background, be rather anonymous. That’s why in 1972 I ran with George McGovern.

All of you are too young to remember that campaign, but it was the first time when the faces of the Democratic candidates were found on milk cartons, like those of missing children. Ironically, our opponents about three years later became “missing children” themselves.

Fortunately, I have always felt completely at home here at Yale and on the old campus. The moment I first arrived in New Haven, I settled down in the luxury of 201 Wright. I can hardly believe it, but that was 60 years ago. But, some things never change. When I graduated, all of us seniors felt exactly as you feel now; — we hoped and prayed the graduation speaker would be brief, if possible, very brief! So I’ll be exactly that today.

I’ve 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 for the first time in 500 years; the new century, the 21st Century, can be the first without cataclysmic war.

Today, there’s only one great military power. It’s us, and we are not eager to fight anyone. The Arabs and the Jews seem to be getting together, finally, in the Middle East; South Africa is casting off its European colonialism; the Asiatic and Pacific nations are not threatening one another militarily; South America is calm, or so it seems; and most of Africa is peaceful. Only Rwanda and Somalia, and from time to time, Liberia or Sierra Leone, spoil the picture.

You are the best placed and the most qualified to make the 21st Century what you want it to be! Oh! I wish I were you! Of course, my peers have not abdicated all decision-making. We will still poke in there once in a while, but we’re now almost like historians. You are the makers of history, and we are the commentators. If that sounds like a cliché, so be it. But think hard: Who else will start making history tomorrow morning when the caps and gowns are put away?

If the world is to enjoy peace for a long term, your generation is the one which has to achieve it.

Thomas Jefferson wrote many unforgettable words, but do you remember how he ended The Declaration of Independence? He wrote, “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor...” Let Jefferson be your guide for this great new beginning that is today. Yes, the battle of ideologies — communism vs. democracy; colonialism vs. self-determination; fascism and nationalism vs. freedom are over. But, the new movement, the new era, is yet to be defined. In my day, we entered the world with national, political, religious and social boundaries defined. Our challenge was only to win for our team. But you are called on to create new boundaries, new rules and, yes, whole new idea systems to capture and define the world. Yes indeed...I wish I were you.

Many of you have already demonstrated a willingness to follow Jefferson’s call to work together. You have taken advantage of the community service programs here at Yale. You have gone into the New Haven community to help ease the pains of the illiterates, the homeless and poor and lonely. You have worked with battered women; you have tutored children. You are leaving Yale today as people who are other-centered, not self-centered: You have felt 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 till the end of your days....”

Now then, young men and women, in what will you believe? Allow me to challenge you, not to think of what you will do nor where you will go, but in what you will believe. King defined for America and the world the power of belief in the simple idea of equality, and he brought it to life in the villages of 20th Century America. Now you must enter the Arena with your beliefs — beliefs for which you are willing to give your lives. Be you doctors or lawyers, teachers or technicians, parents or politicians, you must challenge the world with images and actions that jar the comfortable, make simple the complex, nurture the family and bring justice to people in the country and every corner of the world.

I for my part, hope you think and believe in just such a way about Peace. Let peace be the new metaphor for your times. As a veteran of this century of such tremendous antagonisms, I hope you will define the 21st Century as the Century of Peace.

You do not have to know in advance exactly how to wage peace. We certainly did not know exactly how to organize and lead the Peace Corps. None of us knew what a Peace Corps was specifically, or if it would work. Young and enthusiastic, we plunged into a world of languages we did not understand and people whose customs were totally unknown and foreign to us. We managed to muddle through and create a precious moment in history. Yale was an important part of that achievement. Today the Peace Corps should be at least triple its current size. Maybe men and women of the Class of ’94 can be leaders in a national effort to allocate more money for peace through the Peace Corps rather than colossal expenditures to arm poverty stricken nations with lethal weapons. Yes indeed, I wish I were you with that opportunity!!!

Bring peace to our communities at home too. Dedication and efforts are needed to triple the Job Corps, a proven success in saving the lives, and training for the future, tens of thousands of young men and women. Volunteer to help the Job Corps; agitate for its enlargement. You will be helping to empower our great cities and making tax payers out of tax eaters, rooting out drugs and corruption in the process. You won’t get rich, dollar-wise, working in the Job Corps, but you will be rebuilding America and making our great cities safe for democracy. This chance is yours!

Peace is for those who serve the least among us. Special Olympics has convinced me of that truth. In twenty-five years, Special Olympics has expanded from its start with 1,200 athletes in Chicago, to 1,000,000 athletes, all with mental retardation, in 140 countries. No private philanthropy has grown so fast and so effectively in the entire 20th Century. Never before in the history of the world has there been any comprehensive program for persons with mental retardation. Yet there are 250,000,000 human beings with mental for and with others.

Leaving Yale today, each of you is called on to be a peacemaker. No calling is higher, no calling is more needed. You are called on to be peacemakers in your families. In your neighborhood and your workplaces. If you want to eliminate weapons from the world, first we must get them out of our own hearts.

However, it is futile to wait for leaders to improve society. All of history’s great changes—nonviolent changes—came from below, not from above. It comes from us. Mother Teresa, one of the few people on earth of whom it can be said there is no difference between what she says and what she does, has a memorable line: “We aren’t called on to be successful, we’re called on to be’ faithful.”

Where do these suggestions and thoughts leave us today? From my own life, I can tell you only a few things.

My greatest happiness has been my wife and my five children. All of them are here today. Two of them are Yale graduates, too. None of them came to me as a result of my brains, my work, or my education. They really came to me from God. I say from God because that’s the complete truth. To a political or solely secular audience, I’d say they came to me as a result of “good luck.” But, truthfully, it hasn’t been luck. It’s been “love.” God’s love is something no one earns. It’s just given.

So, the first thing I’ve learned is this: It’s not what you get out of life that counts. It’s what you give and what is given to you from the heart.

I have been blessed by the chance to help, lead, and participate in some of the great events and initiatives which have called for peace in this century. I mentioned the Peace Corps, the Job Corps and Special Olympics, and there were others — VISTA, Foster Grandparents, Indian and Migrant Opportunities, The Catholic Interracial Council, and Head Start. But now, your chance is to move peace away from the side show to center stage – to make peace not an issue, but the issue — to harness for your family, your community, and your world, the power of peace.

And I have one small word of advice because it is going to be tough: Break your mirrors!!! Yes indeed — shatter the glass. In our society that is so self-absorbed, begin to look less at yourself and more at each other. Learn more about the face of your neighbor and less about your own.

I suggest this: When you get to be thirty, forty, fifty, or even seventy years old, you’ll get more happiness and contentment out of counting your friends than counting your dollars. You’ll get more satisfaction from having improved your neighborhood, your town, your state, your country, and your fellow human beings than you’ll ever get from your muscles, your figure, your automobile, your house, or your credit rating.

You’ll get more from being a peacemaker than a warrior. I’ve been both, so I speak from experience. Break the mirrors!

Be peacemakers of the community and you and your family will be happy!

In closing, young men and women, I thank you again. I am thrilled to have been with you today.

I hope you remember to believe in things ‘til you die. I hope you remember to be guided by beliefs powerful enough to change the world. I hope you remember the example of the Peace Corps Volunteer, the Head Start parent, the Special Olympics athlete. They each in their own way are waging peace. Maybe you will even remember me and my family — my children, my wife, and most importantly, Jackie. Remember the importance of family — of giving and receiving — of love.

You have such a chance! Oh, how I wish I were you!

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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