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Public Statements

Hagel Commencement Address at Gonzaga High School

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Location: Washington, DC


Hagel Commencement Address at Gonzaga High School

Below is United States Senator Chuck Hagel's (R-NE) commencement address, "Five Lessons for Graduates" delivered Sunday at Gonzaga High School in Washington, DC:

"After 61 years of living, I still do not have all the answers to life. But I have learned some things. I'd like to share five lessons I have learned over those years that might be of some use to you as you look forward from this day.

Lesson 1: Take risks and seek new experiences. Nothing worth having in life comes without the risk of failure. Don't be afraid to fail. Failing to try is worse than failing to achieve. Your generation will have more options than any generation of Americans. Take advantage of them. Seek out new challenges.

Theodore Roosevelt said, "...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic— the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done."

Lesson 2: Do what is ethical, not just what is legal. Too often, especially in Washington, we define our standards of conduct by legality. We blow past the ethical boundaries trying to maximize profit or prestige. There is a difference between ethical and legal conduct. Hold yourself to a higher standard than simply what you can get away with, and don't cut corners. Your real competitor, and critic, is ultimately yourself.

During your life, when you are faced with difficult decisions, almost always, you will know that the right thing to do...is the right thing to do. Do it. Listen to yourself and be guided by what you believe is right. Standing against the crowd and doing what you think is right may be very lonely and frightening, but it will serve you well over the long haul. And you'll sleep better.

A Chinese proverb says, "Laws control the lesser man. Right controls the greater one."

Lesson 3: Don't focus on the externals. Gonzaga has given you a tremendous start in life, but it is only a start. Do not lose your sense of curiosity and quest for improvement. Read, read, read and then read some more. The world in which you will be living will be more competitive than any generation has ever known, but don't let that throw you. We too often focus on the externals—the next achievement, the next grade, the next job. Remember that you have both a life and a career. Prepare yourself personally, and the professional will take care of itself. This is a tough challenge in today's world.

Lesson 4: Give something back. You have all benefitted from living in a country that allowed you the opportunity to receive a first-rate education, built on the bedrock Jesuit principle of service. With this privilege comes a responsibility to give something back to your country and your fellow man. Whether it is mentoring a child, serving in the military, running for office, or volunteering for a noble cause, this country will provide you countless everyday meaningful opportunities to give something back to society. Patriotism and service are old fashioned values, but they never outlive their time. We all have an obligation in life to help make a better world for all people.

Winston Churchill said, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."

Lesson 5: Remember what really matters in life. We live in an age of instant—and constant— communication. "Immediacy" in everything we do. In many ways this has made our lives easier to live and more productive than ever before, but the challenge for you in this "immediate world" will be to ensure that it does not diminish the things that are most important in life. Everyone who will walk across this stage this afternoon is here because family, friends and teachers helped you get here. In life, it is these great treasures that matter most. Do not forget it. So make the call, write the note or send the flowers before your conscience tells you to. Let these special people know how you feel about them—especially when they don't expect it. Stay connected in the good times…for it will help you through the tough ones that will surely come.

Don't hold back your enthusiasms or dim your passions for your beliefs, loves and interests. Commit yourself fully, knowing that life will at times be unfair- but will always even out in the end. Regrets are painful to live with. You'll have some- but you don't want too many.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "It's faith in something and enthusiasm for something that makes a life worth living."

You are graduating at a special time. The world is undergoing a historic time of transformation and redefinition. These great moments in history come about twice in a century. Embrace this time to be alive and engage yourself in every part of it. Think of the opportunities you have to help shape the future of mankind. You will have the opportunity to do more good, for more people than any generation in the history of man. Don't squander it.

The longer you live, the more you will realize that the three indispensable requisites in life are faith, character and courage. Never lose them. Life is not worth much without them. The currency of life is trust- a product of character. The vitality of life is self-respect—a product of courage. The essence of life is faith- a product of spirituality. Faith matters most. No matter the depth of despair or the difficulty of the dilemma- faith, character and courage will see you through.

We're proud of you. Congratulations. You're now Purple Eagles for life!"


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