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Richardson Address

Commencement Address

May 17, 1999

by Bill Richardson

Thank you very much, President Mohrman, for an overly generous introduction.

I am honored that Colorado College has made me an honorary Doctor of Law. I am now a lawyer. I'll finally fit in back in Washington, D.C. Now I'll be able to serve myself with a subpoena.

I'd like to just start out by thanking so many people that made this invitation possible, and I know that the graduates, all of you here, have worked enormously towards this day. You've labored, you've spent long nights, now comes the worse part, and that's the graduation speech. I'll take a hint from Albert Einstein, who once stood up to give a commencement address that consisted of, and I quote, "I do not have any particular thoughts to express today, so I wish you all success in the future." Then he sat down.

My remarks will be a little longer than that, relatively speaking. I want to talk with you today about the world that you inherit, and the world you can create. As the last graduating class in the 20th century, you will have the opportunity to set the course and shape the events in the next millennium. It is important that you resist cynicism, and believe in public service and its power to bring about change for the better.

I understand that some of you have written me letters expressing concern over certain Department of Energy policies. I will read those letters. And I thank you for your interest and commend you for getting involved and taking a stand. I think it's critically important to make your voices heard, not just today but in the future.

You know, it's all very easy to become cynical about the country we live in, the world we inhabit, about our politics, our politicians, about the media. During your time here at Colorado College, you have witnessed a horde of TV cameras and tabloid reporters descending on Boulder after the murder of a little girl, and in recent days they descended again after the incomprehensible tragedy in Littleton. Yet in the aftermath of the Littleton tragedy, the world saw the people of Colorado pull together, shed tears together, support one another, and persevere. The world watched the people of Colorado and when you grieved, the nation shared your shock and were inspired by your courage.

Colorado College demonstrates that spirit of community. Three out of four of you contribute your time, intellect and compassion to community-oriented projects and organizations. And Colorado College sends more of its students to the Peace Corps than all but three liberal arts colleges in the country. Of course, there are 11 of you from New Mexico, and I wish you the best including, by the way, Jamie Brown, one of my constituents, whose parents Chris and Georgia Brown were instrumental in my political career.

So what does the world hold for you? You will take your spirit of community service and your degree from this great college into a nation virtually unprecedented economic prosperity and into a world offering almost unlimited opportunity.

As you enter that world, I offer you four simple suggestions:
· Find a job - no matter how large or small - that means something to you;
· Be generous with your advantages; and all of you have a lot of advantages. Give to others.
· Stand up for what you believe in. Take a stand no matter how unpopular that stand may be. The world does not honor fence sitters.
· Remember where you came from -- your community, your neighborhood, your school, your friends.

At this moment in history, you have the opportunity to shape the world. But you have a responsibility to create a better one. So I would ask you to add a fifth suggestion, and that is to think of yourselves as citizens of the world. Thinking of yourselves in a global community, thinking of yourselves as some that will make a difference for all mankind, not just yourselves and your country. This will require tough choices. The strength of our economy, the safety of our cities, the health of our people depends not only on events not only here at home, but half a world away. We have to work together with the world community to defeat the dangers we face together - nuclear proliferation, environmental degradation, terrorism, drug cartels, disease, and illiteracy.

Today in Kosovo, for example, the United States is working with our NATO allies to restore hope to a people who have had none for much too long. For no reason except for their ethnicity and faith, those murdered in Kosovo number in the tens of thousands - and those terrorized number much higher. Our objectives are all clear: the withdrawal of Serb military from Kosovo, the unconditional return of all refugees to their homes and the development of an international security force, with NATO at its core, to ensure peace in the region.

As Secretary of Energy, as UN Ambassador and as a Congressman, I have come to know this to be true: the need now is greater than ever for the United States to engage the world beyond our borders - and the people beyond our shores.

But just as there are opportunities across the globe, there are threats to our security.

Let me just tell you for a moment about one the most compelling and important responsibilities that we have right now in national security, and that is to secure Russia's nuclear materials from theft by terrorists and rogue states. The danger of these materials falling into the wrong hands is a matter of life and death for all of us.

Just one of the 10 cities in Russia that harbors its nuclear weapons stores more plutonium than the entire stockpile of France, China and Great Britain combined. Imagine what might happen if a terrorist group obtained enough plutonium for a bomb. A lump of plutonium the size of a softball could produce an explosion several times the size of that of Hiroshima in 1945.

Accounting for the whereabouts of all nuclear materials, and securing those facilities that house them is not important, it is imperative. At 40 sites across Russia, our employees work side-by-side with their Russian counterparts to meet this imperative. But we harbor no illusions about the complexity of the problems in Russia. One of our programs simply provides winter clothes, warm boots and space heaters to guards at these facilities. Not exactly atomic science, but it kept guards at their posts through the long Russian winter.

I was with the President in Moscow last September, and have seen the hardships that their Russian nuclear workers face each day. Tens of thousands of them face unemployment. What if you had virtually no prospects when you walked from Colorado College today? How much would you compromise your values to secure your future and feed your children? We are seeking ways to keep these scientists working for peace in Russia, and not selling their knowledge to countries like Iraq or North Korea - countries that would take advantage in order to develop an advantage.

I know some of you are apprehensive when you hear about the Energy Department's clean-up efforts on nuclear waste. But the price of winning the Cold War is our obligation to clean up the waste we generated safely.

In March, I proposed that 90,000 acres be controlled by the Department along the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River and it be made a National Wildlife Refuge. This action will protect and preserve a unique resource in an area rich in culture and history.

And later today, I'll be at Rocky Flats to announce an agreement to permanently set aside a large parcel of land to preserve wildlife and an unspoiled remnant of the prairie. In so doing, we will ensure that future generations will enjoy this ecological treasure and will protect many rare and endangered species - such as eastern short-honed lizards, western burrowing owls, peregrine falcons, bald eagles - so that future generations enjoy them just as we do now.

I've been part of many exciting things during my career as a public servant which has now numbered close to 20 years. Thirty years ago, it was me sitting out there among the caps and gowns, impatiently waiting for the commencement speaker to finish. Don't feel bad, because 30 years ago when I sat where you were, I didn't know what I wanted to do. All I wanted to do was make a difference.

But what I did know - and what you should know as well - is that you make a commitment to your communities, your country and your world. The education you received here is a wonderful gift. As you leave here I urge you to count your blessings more often than you count whatever else may come to you. Keep in mind these words of Robert Frances Kennedy:

"The Gross National Product does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages or the intelligence of our public debate. It measures neither our wit nor our courage. Neither our vision, our wisdom, or our learning. Neither our compassion nor devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America, except why we are proud that we Americans."

Thank you, and good luck to all of you.

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