Career Conference Speech

"It won’t be long for most of you in this room before rock & roll will no longer mean a dance, a pony-tail hair-do blue jeans, or a guitar player with side-burns. Instead, rock & roll will mean rocking babies to sleep in the middle of the night, and rolling to work at 6 or 7 in the morning."
Illinois Institute of Technology • March 30, 1957

No one person is smart enough, experienced enough, or sufficiently wise to advise every student in this auditorium what to do about careers in law, teaching, science, business and entertainment.

Charles Van Doren, Ann Landers, President Eisenhower, and Mike Todd – all rolled into one could not make such a speech. That’s why Illinois Institute of Technology, the Sun-Times, and the Chicago Technical Societies Council have brought together today experienced people from many fields of human activity -- experts who will give you detailed and specific information about many of the most fascinating careers in the world today.

I won’t expose my ignorance by trying to compete with them, but here’s a thought I would like to pass along:

99% of us in this room have, or soon will have, 2 careers in common. Neither of these careers are going to be discussed in the special meetings later on today. Both of them are so fundamental you can end up a failure as a professional man, or woman, unless you are first, a success in them. The two careers I’m thinking about are marriage and citizenship.

We have an expert here on marriage. He just spoke to you, and I’m not going to compete with a successful father of 6 children like Mayor Richard J. Daley. The citizens of Chicago respect Mayor Daley as much for his successful career as a father as they do for his outstanding accomplishments as Mayor. When you think about your choice of a career that’s a point to remember.

I think I can say the same thing about my father-in-law, Joseph P. Kennedy. Joseph P. Kennedy is the man who has made millions of dollars, has been Ambassador to Great Britian, and a trusted friend of President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Pope Pius XII, and many other famous people. But many Americans consider his greatest achievement to be the role he has played as a successful father of 9 children, one of whom, Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts, almost won the Democratic nomination for Vice President of the United States last summer, a second, Bobby Kennedy, is the young lawyer who has been directing so many brilliant questions to Dave Beck during the recent Senate investigations, a third won the Navy Cross for bravery in World War II.

These are only three of Mr. Kennedy’s 9 children, but recently the Daily News described all 9 of them in these words: “There isn’t a lout in the lot.” And I know that Mr. Kennedy was pleased to read that statement.

It won’t be long for most of you in this room before rock & roll will no longer mean a dance, a pony-tail hair-do blue jeans, or a guitar player with side-burns. Instead, rock & roll will mean rocking babies to sleep in the middle of the night, and rolling to work at 6 or 7 in the morning.

Some of you then will be asking with dismay:- “What is this thing called love?” And you won’t have an intelligent answer to that important question unless you plan now to make yourself a successful partner in marriage.

No man wants to spend his life with a woman who didn’t take time to plan and prepare for being a wife, - and a mother to his children. No woman will want to marry a man who was not interested in preparing for a career, and consequently can’t hold a decent job.

Someone long ago said this:- If you avoid planning now, someday you will view success, but only from a distance. This is true of marriage, just as much as mechanical engineering.

The second career, Citizenship, involves everybody. In a democracy, every citizen, regardless of his interest in politics, “holds office"; every one of us is in a position of responsibility, but we shall fail to develop a proper sense of responsibility, unless we begin with the determination to develop ourselves first as men, before we worry about jobs, or trades, or security, or pension rights, or insurance policies. Viewed in this way, - citizenship is a career in itself. Recently I spoke on this subject aid the Dean of Students here at I.I.T., Dean Deakins, having read what I said, asked that I express to all of you my thoughts on this “Career of Careers” - the one career which underlies all our other activities in life.

I should like to discuss this career of citizenship with you, first, in terms of our city, Chicago, and, second, in terms of ourselves.

Chicago is known all over the world as a transportation center, stockyards center, merchandising and steel production headquarters. But why is it that relatively few people outside Chicago speak of our city as a wonderful place to live, or thank us for our contributions to the ideals, hopes, dreams of mankind?

Even today in the 20th century, the Ancient Romans are still well-known for their law, their military organization, their good roads and orderly government.

The Ancient Greeks are famous for their philosophers like Aristotle and Plato; their teachers like Socrates; their poets and playwrights like Homer and Euripides.

But what are we in Chicago famous for? What do we export to the world? What have we given? What do we give today?

You might justifiably remonstrate that Illinois, if not Chicago, gave Lincoln to the world, and you would be right, --except that Lincoln was born in Kentucky. But granting Lincoln, what are we giving today?

I suggest we are giving almost only material things: - steel, automobiles, TV and radio, candy, meat, refrigerators, farm machinery. These products of our factories are vital to our national power, it is true, and our power is crucial in a world which seems to live in fear: fear of atomic war, fear of economic defeat, fear of socialism and communism. But fear alone is a poor substitute for the higher virtues.

The western world cannot combat communism on such a basis. A people guided by fear leaves all the initiative and all the advantage to the other side. Throughout history, the men with the positive goals have won their way. Ideals like ‘The Chosen People” of Ancient Jewry, the unity of Christianity in the middle ages, our own American Republic, -- these ideals have proved most effective in hitching the human forces of hunger and power and greed and fear into producing a batter life for mankind.

Racially, the United States is a melting pot of every nation under the sun. Geographically we reached our present borders only within the last 100 years. But by force of an idea --- the proposition that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, the United States has risen to be the most powerful community in recorded history.

We have been made and sustained by faith in man, –faith in his freedom, his responsibility, his dignity as a creature of God, endowed with rights and responsible in duties.

Man is not master of the Universe because he can split the atom. He has split the atom because he first believed in his own mastery.

Faith led to material achievement, not the achievement to faith.

So, I repeat, we are not giving enough -- or perhaps it would be more accurate to say we are not giving enough of the right things -- when we in Chicago export primarily steel, farm machinery, food products, radio and TV, to the world.

True, the world needs these things. But it needs much more the faith and the idealism which made America unique in the world.

The second half of the 20th century can be America’s century, -- the century of America’s greatest success and of your greatest personal happiness. But it won’t happen by accident. It will require work and personal sacrifice. Let us recall the bible story about the last day when all men shall be judged. Those will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, according to the Holy Book, who on earth gave drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, comfort to the afflicted, care to the sick and to those in prisons, faith to the unbeliever, peace to the troubled in mind or heart.

Whether you believe in the Bible or not, it is interesting, I think, to observe that each of the requirements set down for entrance into Heaven involves personal service to others.

There is nothing about the size of your bank account, nothing about the ranch house in the suburbs, nothing about that new Ford convertible you want, nothing about that gorgeous new dress in the “28" shop at Marshall Field’s.

Frankly, I wish there were at least a mention of a few things like the White Sox in first place, or a regular golf game in the low seventies. Because, -- let’s not kid ourselves -- all of us - each one of you and me, - would like to have our cake and eat it.

But the good book is silent about eating cake it talks only about giving it away.

I frequently think of a sad but true incident which illustrates my thought.

In 1923 a very important meeting was held at the Edgewater Beach Hotel here in Chicago. Attending the meeting were 10 of the world’s most successful men. They were:

1) The President of the largest steel company in the United States.

2) The President of the largest bank in the country at that time.

3) The President of the largest utility company.

4) The President of the largest gas company.

5) The greatest wheat speculator.

6) The President of the New York Stock Exchange

7) A Member of President Coolidge’s Cabinet.

8) The greatest Wall Street speculator.

9) The Head of the world’s greatest monopoly.

10) The President of the World Bank for International Settlements. Certainly most, people would agree that this was a gathering of some of the world’s most successful men.

25 years later, in 1948, let’s see what had happened to these men.

1) The President of the largest steel company had died bankrupt. For five years before his death he had lived on borrowed money.

2) The President of the largest utility company had died penniless. A fugitive from justice in a foreign land.

4) The President of the largest gas company was insane.

5) The greatest wheat speculator died abroad, -- insolvent.

6) The President of the New York Stock Exchange was in Sing Sing Penitentiary convicted of embezzlement.

7) The Member of President Coolidge’s Cabinet was pardoned from prison so he could die at home.

8) The greatest “Bear” in Wall Street died a suicide.

9) The Head of the greatest monopoly died a suicide.

10) The President of the Bank of International Settlements died a suicide.

All of these men had learned the art of making money. Each of them, as the saying goes, “had everything in the world:” -- new Cadillac convertibles, beautiful homes, money in the bank, good jobs, security, ocean-going yachts, whatever they wanted.

They had all learned how to make a living, but none of them had learned how to live. As one of them said in a suicide note to his son:-

”...I’m leaving you well fixed financially, but that’s all I’m leaving you...”

What of more recent cases of frustration and self-deception?

Klaus-Fuchs; the world . s greatest spy and traitor, the man who gave away the secret of the atom bomb. ,He was not greedy for money. He was a poor man and content to be one. Nor was he ignorant. He had the advantages of the highest education and greatest intellectual achievements. Or: Alger Hiss, another example of a man who had everything in the world: brains, power, position, education, culture.

Yet these men,-- and many others -- have had everything in this world, and ended up failures, - even in terms of this world. Failures, may I suggest, because they had nothing to take them out of this world, out of themselves, and into a much greater and happier world, -- the world of service to others.

“Life is a place of service, and in that service one has to suffer a good deal that is hard to bear, but far more often to experience a great deal of joy. But that joy can be real only if people look upon their lives as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness.” (Tolstoi)

You high school leaders, can avoid the pitiful failures which characterized the end of the lives of all these so-called successful men.

You are American citizens, members of the most powerful and wealthiest nation on earth. 95% of all living human beings are less fortunate than you for this one reason alone.

You are educated Americans. Less than 2% of all living human beings have this additional advantage you now possess.

You are living in 1957. A year recently described by our Secretary of Commerce in Washington as one of the greatest years in all history of American business.

Job opportunities are greater than ever. Salaries are higher than ever. Even for those who must serve in Military forces, there is less chance of being shot at today than at any time since 1941.

Add all these factors together and we can surely agree that of all living human beings you are luckier than 99% of them. You are part of the 1% who must lead, inspire, and save the world, for the world is either lost or saved in every generation. And yours will be no exception.

Those are fine-sounding words -- you might say. put how, you might also ask, can I, lead the world or inspire the world or save the world?

You can do all these things, I believe, if you follow your highest ideals and put them into daily practice.

A great musician once said: - “If I fail to practice even for one day, I notice it.

“If I fail to practice for two days, my friends notice it.

“If I fail to practice for three days, everyone notices it.”

In the offices of the Chicago Housing Authority you can work all day trying to provide shelter for those who are homeless.

In the Public Welfare Department you can work all day helping to bring food to the hungry, care to the sick, comfort to the afflicted.

At our own Board of Education you can try to qualify for work with the crippled, the blind, the deaf, and with ordinary children too.

Let us, make no mistake, Toll and I will solve the problems of ignorance, poverty, racial discrimination; slums and filth here in Chicago in our lifetimes, or tougher, harder working zealots of an alien culture will trample our freedom, and your opportunities to death.

Let us not be content with things as they are. A famous man once said:

“Anything that has been done for 10 years is being done wrong. Orthodox is another word for obsolete...”

While it is not necessary to accept this thought completely, we know that we can create the greatest school system in the world in Chicago if we want it badly enough to work for it and pay for it.

We can have Grand Opera again in Chicago if we will support the opera when it comes to town.

We cam eliminate slums if we compel our Aldermen and other public officials to enforce the laws against illegal changes in existing houses.

We can change Chicago. That’s easy. The hard part is to change ourselves to change ourselves from men and women looking for the easy job with “the most in it for me” as the popular expression puts it. Such a job may pay well – in dollars. And the absence of work may be pleasant – for awhile.

But if like a scientist you will take, the raw materials of, your mind and body and, process them through the laboratory of humility, prayer, and neighborly love, the result will be a second explosion heard ‘round the world.

You will be raised into a life of overwhelming love, great peace, and heroic achievement, And these things no-man will ever be able to take from you.

Our city will be regenerated - our country ennobled – because of 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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