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Sunday, May 25, 2014

We could all be reminded to serve

Posted By on Sun, May 25, 2014 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge Lesley_Stedman_Weidenbener_-_mug_-_The_Statehouse_File.jpg
Graduation speeches are meant for high school and college students moving into the so-called real world.

But after listening to one by by Eli Lilly & Co. President John Lechleiter on Saturday at Franklin College, I wonder if the message shouldn't be directed just as much at parents, faculty and adults in general.

John Lechleiter called on Franklin grads to be good citizens, to vote and to participate in their communities by serving on local school boards or volunteering with kids.

That's a common theme among college graduation speeches.

"You must find a way to serve," Oprah Winfrey told graduates of Spelman College in 2012.

"Martin Luther King said that not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service," she said.

Former Gov. Mitch Daniels, now the president of Purdue University, last year told graduates of Indiana University that they should push past what's comfortable to embrace and people that are not like them and consider ideas that are new.

"You have already performed a first act of civic leadership by earning the degree you'll collect in a few minutes," Daniels said. "Now please earn it over and over, in all the future commencements ahead, by seeking out and relishing new zones of discomfort where the greatest satisfaction, achievement, and contributions to the common good await you."

These are great messages to give young adults. I hope they listen. But in truth, I think most of them already have many of these goals.

The journalism students I teach and mentor at Franklin College are generally idealistic. Maybe it's the liberal arts education they receive or the emphasis the college puts on leadership, but many of them volunteer with kids and raise money through their fraternities and sororities for good causes.

These students have ideas about changing the world once they graduate.

But as those of us who are farther along in our years know so well, life sometimes gets in the way of those idealistic plans. We get jobs, get married, have kids. We worry about money, our health and our futures. We get caught up in our own lives so much that we sometimes forget that one thing we wanted to do someday was to help others.

I thought about all this Saturday as I listened to Lechleiter talk about being a good citizen. I thought abut the story I'd heard on National Public Radio last week about trends in graduation speeches and their emphasis on service. And I started to wonder why these speeches are all aimed at young graduates, not at our older selves.

Of course, it's not that often that the rest of us gather in a gymnasium to listen to speeches. If we're there at all, it's for a basketball game or a wrestling match - maybe some political event that includes a speech but one that's usually about the person giving it, not the audience.

And so it might be that ceremonies like graduations are one of the only places that such a speech could be appropriate or even heard. If so, the speakers should take advantage of the assembled crowd and direct their talks not just at the young graduates but at everyone else in the audience as well.

Public service is not something that should be reserved for the young. It should be a duty taken on in some way by all of us, even as our lives become busier and more complicated.

Lesley Weidenbener is the executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
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