May 19, 2003
by Andrew Shue
This is a magical, magical moment. And I want to say special thanks to President Celeste, to honored guests, a special thanks to all the amazing teachers and faculty who are sitting down here in the front, and a special thanks to all of the friends, and the mentors, and the partners in education, and a special thanks to all the family members who came from all over the country to be here today. Because they care about this class…the class of 2003. And I want to say the biggest thanks to the class of 2003 that made it here to this day. This amazing, amazing day in your life. So give yourselves a round of applause right now. This is a beautiful setting. They were saying that maybe it was going to rain, maybe it was going to be too windy, too cold. It isn't. It's magical. It really, really is.
I've learned a lot about Colorado College in a day. I've learned about the strength of being an individual and standing up for what you believe in…saying what you believe. One of the young women that I met on my way in said, “You had a real bond with Alison.” She was serious. Alison's actually a fictional character for those of you who don't know. But she's a nice person. And I've learned a lot about how great the women's soccer team is and how great the men's hockey team is. And I learned a lot about the character of the people who come here. And President Celeste was telling me a little bit about what it means to be a student here and I felt he had given me a tall order to come here and speak to all of you about my passion: being an engaged, caring, active citizen. Because from what I hear, you already are engaged, caring, active citizens. Seventy-five percent of you spend some time involved in the community. That's pretty amazing. I think that's higher than any college in the country. You should be proud of that.
It's a big deal but I know that you know that there's a long way to go. That this is just -- just -- the beginning. And I think if you think about it a little, you might feel that maybe you're still in that nest. You're still in that comfort zone. You've had this schedule that's been progressing now for 16 years of education. That schedule that keeps you true, keeps you coming back for more. You got a system that really works. There's a social system that allows you to make friends and feel included and find your place where you feel safe. You're really in that nest. Your wings aren't really formed. There are stubs there that are kind of wings. But it's so safe. And when you decide that you're really going to go out there, if you think about it, it's not that safe. It's not that easy. You know. You have parents, siblings. You've seen people struggle. You've seen what's going on in the world. It's a challenge/ a great challenge. Well, if I could take this a little further and think about those wings that you might need to fly. We're here in this amazing town where you have the home of the U.S. Olympics and the Air Force and you have these grand mountains. What a place to try to figure out how to fly. What a place to figure out how you could make your life meaningful, adventurous, and worth something. How you might be able to make your mark. Well if you think about it, the wings really aren't out here, they come from the strength that's inside. The wings that you've got out here that are going like this and are trying to fly and trying to make it the first time out of the nest. …. It doesn't come from what's out here. It comes from that strength that's right in here. And I was thinking about it last night. What's that thing inside that really could make people fly? Well when you think about flying, how you are really going to fly, it comes down to It comes down to what do you have? What's inside of you? Do you have that confidence? Do you have that self-respect? Do you have that feeling that you know you are a good person? That you know you are participating? That's not an easy thing to get. You know that it is probably one of the hardest tings to get: true self-respect. True belief and faith in yourself. I found at an early age the times when I learned the most about myself was when I got thrown out there on a stage in front of a microphone when you didn't really want to be out there, where you're kind of afraid.
There are so many times in life -- and I've had them -- when I was really afraid. I was kind of a closed in, self-involved person who was just trying to stay in that safe place and that nest where I had good friends and people who are just like me. Unfortunately, there are so many people who live their whole life in a place that is safe and protected and simple and they don't really have that strength inside to fly. And when you think about it, if you are going to be one of those people that has that strength, you're going to have to take a chance: you're going to have to reach out to touch people to make things happen. And it's not going to be easy because there's going to be all kinds of adversity against you and people who are going to say things that make you feel like you aren't capable. You're going to be going to interviews for jobs and feel they are judging you -- what do you really have? What don't you have? Gosh, if only you had a little higher GPA. You're going to have moments where you're building relationships. You're trying to find the person you're going to spend the rest of you life with. You're going to have all these different moments when it's going to come back to that thing inside — that strength that's either going to make you fly.
What's going to happen if you don't fly? Where do you end up? Well I kind of look at it as maybe there's a big plateau over here and another over here and a big canyon in the middle with a river that's running right through the canyon. And you know the ones that are on this side and they're trying to get to this side to the other and they don't have those strong wings and they're still stuck up there on the plateau. And they decide, you know, I just don't think I have it in me, I just don't think I have the strength that it takes and I'm going to climb down the canyon and I'm going to climb up the other side. And do you know what happens to those people? Unfortunately, they end up in that river and that river just takes them right through life And it just flows…it's a fast-flowing river and before they know it they've got 50 years that have gone by…they've had 50 years and all of a sudden it just passed them by. And they were in there just kind of feeling like they weren't able to find that thing that was inside: that strength, that self-confidence, that belief, the faith.
All right, I think I've painted a picture pretty clear here. And I don't want to make it sound too bad. But here's the good news. Here's the great news. There's a simple, simple, simple way to give you that thing inside. And I figured it out, not because I was some smart person, but because somehow four different times in my life I got thrust into a situation where I had to reach out beyond myself, where I had to work with other people, where I had to make friends with people who were different from me, I had to come up with solutions to how to build community, where I had to go to Africa and learn how to teach 300 students who were different from me, where I had to show up in a town where I had no idea how to succeed as an actor, but I had to figure it out. And I had to start an organization when I was in high school because I had to measure up to my older brother who is an Eagle Scout. And that's not a good thing. So I created an organization to help senior citizens. How many high school kids are out there helping senior citizens? You know how many high school students I had laughing at me? And I was scared, but I just kept pushing through it and I just kept trying. And one moment after another it just started to add and those wings and that strength they just started to grow a little. And started to make me feel a little safer. Because all of a sudden, not just a belief in myself, I had a community, I had people who were actually with me. I had people all around me, whether they were family, friends and people I didn't even know before all around me and now they were rooting for me.
And now as you all set out in your own lives you're right here at the beginning. You're right here. I know you've been around for 22 years, but it's really the beginning. You can find that strength. You can find that strength, but you're going to need that courage to take some steps, you're going to need that courage to take some steps that are scary, to reach out beyond yourself. And you have to think about when that moment comes. Think about when that moment comes and you're scared when you're not sure what to do, and you're thinking maybe you just don't have it in you. And I hope you'll remember that you have the choice, you have the choice to decide, to build the bonds of community to connect with others, to help others, to serve others, to build a better world that's about hope and not about fear. Because fear is that thing that keeps you up there on that other plateau. Fear is that thing that just keeps you closed down and quite frankly alone. But it's hope, and excitement and that search for adventure, and that search for meaning that says you know what? I'm going to go out beyond myself and make friends with someone who is different. I'm going to figure out how to solve this problem. And when there's something that's staring me in the face, that's the worst injustice that anyone could find, I'm going to stand up and find that courage and grow those wings to make it across. I'm going to do it. There are going to be a lot of times when you're in that quiet moment and you're wondering was that guy who spoke at my graduation, and I can't remember his name, was he right that it was that simple, that all you had to do was consistently reach out beyond yourself and build the bonds of community, connect with others, work together to change things, stand up against injustice? If I do those things regularly, over and over again, will I have the strength to live that meaningful adventurous, courageous life on that other side on that other plateau? You guys know. So when I say I challenge you, I know that you are already part way there. I know that you have incredible support, from your family and your friends. You have already the seeds of giving and serving -- they are already inside of you. So you are so far ahead of the game.
I heard a story about the hockey player, a guy named Peter [Sejna] -- he's a pretty good hockey player at your school and, I know that he has that strength inside to get to the other side. They told me that when he won the biggest prize that anybody could possibly win in college hockey, and he was out in Buffalo all by himself. He said, "I'd give this award back in a second if I could have my team here with me." So he's teaching you. He's teaching you.
Life is the most exciting opportunity we have. But we have one shot. You graduate from college once and that's it. You're going out of that nest. And you have to find that courage that's deep, deep, deep in there. Every step of the way. That time when you might be stuck on that one side. Go out and leave this land that we love knowing that the courage is in you, it's up to you, and you will find it. Thank you.