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Secretary Vilsack offers graduates some common sense advice

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• And as joyful as such an occasion such as graduation can be — especially for the parents who have footed exorbitant tuition bills — there are parts of the ceremony that can be trying.

Some of you this spring have experienced the graduation of a loved one from high school or college.

And as joyful as such an occasion can be — especially for the parents who have footed exorbitant tuition bills — there are parts of the ceremony that can be trying.

Take the commencement address, for example. Too often, it is a cliché-heavy, forgettable speech extolling the graduates to do what you, as parents, have been trying to tell them to do all their lives.

Then there’s a gem or two here and there, the kind that are never forgotten and often repeated, such as this one by Sir Winston Churchill: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently presented his version of the commencement address just up the road at Tuskegee University. And while there weren’t any flowery platitudes that are likely to be remembered for the ages, there was some good common sense advice, something that is sorely lacking in today’s national discourse.

Vilsack said Tuskegee University President Gilbert Rochon had given him a few guidelines for the speech — that it should be short, profound, substantive, challenging and inspiring — no small order for a 15-minute presentation. So Vilsack said he sought inspiration from various sources, even bumper stickers.

“There was one that read, ‘live the life you love.’ But when you think about it, that’s pretty self-centered,” he said.

Vilsack recalled that he grew up and graduated during a troubled and turbulent time in American history, “when great people with great courage participated in peaceful protests and were beaten for it, and when people sat at lunch counters and in front of the bus and were jailed for it.”

During this time, he said, national leaders inspired young people to think outside themselves, to dedicate their lives to service for others, to think outside comfort and convenience, and to work for a higher purpose and for higher principles, like justice, equality and freedom.

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