Thank you, Bob, for that wonderful introduction. It is awesome, and I'm very humbled by your words. Thank you so much.
To President Lindgren, Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, honorary degree recipients, distinguished guests, parents, and the Class of 2012, good morning.
I want to thank you for inviting me to be a part of this auspicious occasion because it is truly an honor, and I always look forward to the opportunities to give back to young people, more importantly giving back to Randolph Macon.
To the Class of 2012, let me offer my sincere congratulations a job well done and to your parents and families. Let me say that I share the joy and pride you must feel on this special occasion. This culminating event is also evidence of your support and success, not to mention your wallets.
Graduates, the words of Charles Dickens written more than 100 years ago describe perfectly the world that awaits your destiny as our next generation of movers and shakers. Dickens begins his classic novel, "A Tale of Two Cities," with:
"It was the best of times;
it was the worst of times."
In 1976, I sat in Crenshaw Gymnasium, as you're seated now; and also it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. We had unrest all over the world Cuba, Argentina, South Africa, Beirut, Syria, Thailand, Vietnam, and Northern Ireland, to name a few. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, flooding, the swine flu epidemic, and Legionnaires' Disease caught us by surprise. Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were engaged in the 1976 presidential campaign. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple. Minimum wage was $2.30 an hour, and the British pound fell below $2 for the first time. The first females were admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy and to West Point, and on this campus the second class of women graduated in June of 1976 and the first African American female graduates in the history of Randolph Macon walked across the stage.
And such are the times we live in today. I'm sure that you can draw a parallel to those events that I just named that are pertinent to you today. These times, though, represent opportunities for change, and let me expand just a little bit by sharing my personal story.
In 1972, I graduated from a segregated high school in Birmingham, Alabama. I grew up during the history making, turbulent times of the Fifties and Sixties in a place where the Civil Rights movement and the associated violence were featured by the media throughout the world. On a personal note, my church was bombed several times before the famous 16th Street bombing. My two sisters were in that church, and by the grace of God they survived. I think most of you would agree that this was the worst of times for that period of history.
My parents drove me to Randolph Macon from Birmingham, 13 hours in a car. We didn't kill each other along the way; and when we crossed the James River, I saw the lights as a sign of greater opportunity, not challenge. Some 20 years later, I learned that my parents, having a different perspective of the impact of the Civil Rights movement, did not share my enthusiasm. In fact, they were fearful. My mother revealed that she cried for miles and miles.
The optimism that I felt, in spite of the reality of my world, was the motivation for me to embrace the challenges of being a double minority and to make them the best of times. You know, this campus was a refuge for me until I graduated in 1976. It was a safe haven, a stimulating place, an exciting environment, an invigorating time that made me feel that I could conquer the world.
I have fond memories of the professors that embraced me, like Dr. Ronald Moore, Dr. Wallace Martin, Dr. Jim Gates, Dean Ira Andrews, all who helped me to engage academically and embrace the science and mathematics worlds with fortitude and confidence. They were always available for additional academic support.
The relationships with classmates like Reginald Barley, Allison and Reid O'Brien, Gladys Granger, Dr. Jerry Ross—we call him Jerry; you call him Dr. Jerome Ross; you know what I mean—and Eddie Webb and others have remained intact.
The staff that were like family: James Henry; Coach Paul Webb and his family; Henry Lee Taliaferro; Mrs. Shackleford, our door mother right here at Mary Branch; and Ratliff, our one security guard, who had squeaky shocks on his car, which served as an early-warning system for us so that we had enough time to adjust our behaviors. Not to mention the frat parties, the fountain bubbles, basketball games, bike rides, and the classic Hampden Sydney weekends. This was the best of times and the gateway for infinite possibilities.
I trust, I hope you have that same feeling today that I had some 30 plus years ago. Without it, you will never enjoy true success. With it, your chance for personal joy and professional accomplishment becomes more certain and more attainable.
As we move through the 21st century, technological advances have and will forever change communication, education, employment, and recreation. They are useful tools to provide assistance, but they can never replace the human characteristics of respect, honor, humility, and caring for ourselves and our fellow man. Along with the strong academic foundation, those are some of the traits that were developed while here at Randolph Macon, and I have applied them to every turn along my life's journey.
And now it's your turn. In some ways, instead of a legacy, you have been issued a challenge. I'm hopeful, because I believe that you, the Class of 2012, will capitalize on the best of your times by using your talents and skills to improve the quality of life for all. Indeed, there is no reason why the 21st century can't fulfill the long awaited promise that has defined every new generation since the beginning of time. Your generation will become leaders at the precise time that communication and technology combine to forever change our society. And for you to serve as an agent, as a player in this era of change, it is vital that you take advantage of your education and continue to learn so that you will swim with, rather than drown in, the tidal wave of change that surely will define your times.
Graduates, always remember that knowledge allows you to not only flow with the wave of change but to also stay ahead of its current, and we all know that moving with or in front of a current is far easier than battling against it.
And so today, I ask you to look ahead and gauge your future. Envision life a decade or more from now. What and where will the needs be? Who will fulfill those needs? Will you be in the game? If so, do you have a game plan? And will it allow you to play an active role in the dynamics of your surroundings?
In short, will you shape the times or be molded or restrained by them? Will your imprint on the 21st century be a mark of pride? Will you answer the call issued by writer Maya Angelou in her poem, "On the Pulse of Morning," when she encouraged each of us to lift up our eyes upon the day breaking for us and give birth again to the dream; to lift up our hearts, for each new hour holds new changes for new beginnings, and to remember that the horizon leans forward, offering us space to place new steps of change.
Graduates, the 21st century is here, and it waits for no one. Its history will be your history; and once you have lived it, your mark on humankind, your imprint on society cannot be changed.
So live it well. Don't allow your lives to hang in the balance between good and bad, commitment and indifference, achievement and failure. Instead, live it with a sense of hope, a determination to make things better, a commitment to education, and an unfailing grace for your fellow man and woman.
So make it your destiny. Make it your reality. If you believe it can happen, it will happen; and to make it happen, to create your own formula for success after college, you need only combine your abilities and the technologies of the 21st century with the humanity of a Mother Teresa, an Arthur Ashe, and a Warren Buffet, with the love of parents or grandparents, with the expectations of every dedicated teacher and professor you have ever encountered.
If you will to do this, if you will merge the best of your mind with the best of your heart, then your generation will truly create and live in the best of times.
Thank you, congratulations, and best wishes to all of you.