Congratulations to the graduating class, and thank you for asking me to speak. I’m not going to make any claims about the superiority of the Spring 2009 Patterson School graduating class over any other class. But let’s be frank; I don’t need to. They’ve already sufficiently demonstrated their wisdom…
Graduation speeches are evaluated primarily on their brevity, so I’ll keep things short. Tonight I’ll only talk about two things; the first is service, and the second is myself.
A commitment to service binds all Patterson classes together, and by that I mean all Patterson classes that have been, and all that are to come. When someone decides to come to the Patterson School, they sketch out for themselves a career of service to their community, to their government, to something larger than themselves. Our students go on to work in the government, in the intelligence community, in non-governmental organizations, and in major companies around the world. In so doing, they take responsibility for making the world work; taking responsibility is, after all, what service is about. We live in a world of financial crises, terrible poverty, terrorism, cylons, piracy, and trade disputes, and those are only the exciting bits, the tip of the iceberg. Our graduates tonight will be taking responsibility for all of that, along with the daily grind that constitutes making policy in government, in an NGO, or at a private company. Our graduates, in short, are taking responsibility for making the world run.
I don’t think that this commitment to service, this undertaking of responsibility, can be understood independently of an appreciation of Kentucky. Kentucky is about community; circles of community reaching from family to town to county to state to nation. How this sense of community works can be mystifying, even maddening to an outsider like myself, but there’s no doubt that it exists. I think that this sense of community, and the commitment to service it produces, infuses everything that we do at the Patterson School. We’re not simply a school of foreign policy; we’re a school of foreign policy in Kentucky, and that distinction means something for what our graduates will do.
And so, what has all this meant to me? For four years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching at the Patterson School, and I’ve found it the most rewarding part of my career. If someone asked me, I’d say that teaching Patterson students is, I think, the most important thing that I’ve ever done. But I would also have to say that my attachment, and my enthusiasm, has thus far been detached; I’ve approached Patterson in an analytical sense, detached from the personal.
This has been a luxury of (relative) youth. As some of you know, my wife and I are expecting two baby girls this summer. I expect that many things will change; one thing that has changed already is my appreciation of service, of the acceptance of responsibility that our students have undertaken. Because now it’s not just me; it’s my daughters as well. Now, when we send our students out into the world, they’re taking responsibility for making sure my daughters have the opportunity to grow up safe, healthy and prosperous. And that means that the success of our graduates tonight has, so to speak, become personal. And so as you, the graduates, go forth, I say with all seriousness: Do well.
I should also say that I will be deeply honored if, some 24 years from now, my daughters join you all as Patterson graduates. We’ll see.
Thank you, and congratulations again to our graduates.