Thank you very much, and good morning. President Alexander, Chairman of the Board Eric Turner, Reverend Sullivan, trustees, faculty, parents, family members, and most importantly, the graduates:
I’m deeply grateful and honored for your welcome and for your kind words.
It’s a tremendous honor to be here with you all today, and it’s also an honor to become a proud member of the Lasell College Class of 2011.
I’m pleased to be in Newton to share this special day with the graduates of this outstanding college. For the seniors, this is one of those wonderful moments in life when everybody is on your side, proud of your success and believing in your future.
You’ve worked hard, you’ve aimed high and all that you have achieved belongs to you alone. Everyone here today is a credit to this college and to this community, and I speak for everyone by saying: well done and congratulations.
You’re the center of attention today, but you’re not necessarily the proudest ones here. That would be your parents and loved ones, who made this moment possible with their love, encouragement, and support - both prayerful and financial.
They don’t ask for much thanks, but they certainly deserve it - so let’s give a big round of applause for all the moms, dads and loved ones here today.
Being invited here today is one of several unexpected honors that have lately come my way. Even more than a year after my election, the Senate campaign is still fresh in everyone’s memory. For example, coming up here I asked President Alexander where I was supposed to sit. He pointed to a chair and said, --- “Right over there - but just remember, it’s not your seat, it’s the people’s seat.”
For me, this honorary degree from Lasell College will stand as a reminder that we all keep learning new things at any age. The last year has been a whirlwind of educational experiences. It has been the honor of a lifetime representing Massachusetts in the United States Senate.
It has allowed me to do things and meet people I never imagined possible and to involve myself in the major issues of the day, from protecting America from enemies who would do us harm to steering us away from the financial calamity that awaits if we continue to spend money we don't have.
Yes, the last year has been a worthwhile experience.
And by the way, here’s a little lesson for dads and future dads to keep in mind that I learned the hard way: Before you announce to the world that your college-age daughters are available, run it by them first - or you will pay dearly for it. Trust me.
But seriously, here’s a piece of advice that applies at all times throughout a person’s life: when you set a goal and everyone tells you that it cannot be done: If your gut tells you otherwise, then go with your gut. Don’t let the critics and the cynics stop you from dreaming big. If it’s truly in your heart to take a big chance, then ignore the doubters and give it everything that is in you. You never know what will happen.
There are few guarantees in life. But I can assure you of this: You will never regret giving your all to a great endeavor, whether it’s running for office or serving your country or volunteering for an organization that makes a difference. If the cause is worthy and the effort honorable, then the only failure is never to try at all.
From the start of my campaign, people told me that I couldn’t win. In fact, even right up until those final weeks, most people thought a graceful defeat to position me for another run in the future looked like the best I could hope for. For most of that race I ran as the presumed loser. The question I heard most was, “Why even bother?” It was all supposed to be a done deal, and I wasn’t part of the deal.
You’ll hear that question from time to time in your own lives, and you might even be tempted to ask it of yourself - why bother? Who doesn’t sometimes feel like the odds are hopeless … why should I try? Let someone else do it.
But I knew what I wanted. I didn’t want to just be the sacrificial lamb. I wanted to win, and I knew I could.
Sometimes it feels like the advantages all belong to others and you don’t have a chance in the world. As a Republican from Massachusetts, I know the feeling. In those moments, an awful lot depends on your attitude. Your worst enemy is not the prospect of defeat, it’s the temptation to give up. It’s amazing what a person can accomplish on the strength of raw determination. I never listened to the naysayers. I still don’t, and my advice to you is: neither should you.
There’s a lot to be said for being an underdog, and I’d prefer that any day of the week to being overrated.
Some of the greatest blessings first appear as challenges. It’s the effort itself that brings out the best in every one of us. Some of our happiest moments come in the hard pursuit of our goals.
There’s an old saying that when you win, you hear from everybody … and when you lose, you hear from your friends. It applies not just in politics, but pretty much everywhere that human nature is at work. My advice to you is that when life is going your way, always remember who would be there for you if it weren’t. On this day of partings and goodbyes, remember that the friends you made here can all still have a place in your hearts and in your lives.
The world will apply many different measures to you, some that count and some that don’t count. And among those that carry real weight, never let it be said that you forgot your friends.
I speak from experience, because I have been fortunate enough to have many people who helped get my life on the right path at an early age. One example was a judge, a fine man named Samuel Zoll, who recently passed away after battling with cancer. I remember standing before him in his courtroom for shoplifting, and he didn’t know that I’d ripped off even the suit I was wearing that day.
But Judge Zoll did know that here was a kid who could still go one way or the other in life. He gave me the talking-to I needed at that point in my life, and a big break that started to point me in a better direction. Without him, I would not be standing before you today.
There were other great people – teachers, basketball coaches, the parents of friends – who also showed up in my life just in time. From them, I learned to take responsibility, to channel my energy in a structured way, and to give discipline to whatever talent I had. For so long I’d felt like a loser kid who was missing out on everything good, and they showed me how much I really had going for me. In large part because of them, and also my grandparents, things never completely unraveled, and I escaped to beat the odds.
The test is to give your time, your mind, and your heart to the things that you feel matter --- that YOU care about… to take advantage of opportunities when YOU see them, because they are scarce, and they do not last forever. So take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.
Now, many of you have probably heard about the ongoing bribery trial involving a former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and his associates. The news coming out of federal court is discouraging for all of us who want and expect honest government.
The accused, if convicted, should get the punishment they deserve. But it's not just these defendants in that courtroom who have let us down. They have been enabled by a 'go along to get along' attitude that deeply saturates the one-party control of government in this state.
I don't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican, just as one political party can't be right 100% of the time, it shouldn't have 100% of the power. Unchallenged power grows arrogant over time. It is what has given us one case of graft after another.
Those standing trial are being called to account, but that by itself will not end the culture of corruption. That is what I like about elections. If you think the system has failed us, then your vote can change the system.
I do not say these things to discourage you. I actually hope it will cause you to consider a career in public service. Your idealism, your energy, your optimism gives me hope for the future.
Each one of you has the power to make a difference. Every one of us sitting and standing here today shares the good fortune of living in the United States of America. We are all a part of the grand story that is America. It's a distinction that millions of people across the world wouldn't mind having for themselves.
In Washington, I’m turning the page on a new chapter in my career. After working out of Senator Kennedy’s old office for the past year, I recently moved to a new building in the Senate and got new committee assignments. It turns out the office selection system in the U.S. Senate is a little like the dorm room lottery in college: and it also turns out I’m pretty low on the seniority list – more like a sophomore than a senior.
But in my new office, I still keep a picture of Ted Kennedy on my mantel. It reminds me not only of somebody I liked and respected, but also of a promise I made to my friends back home to work with people of goodwill wherever I find them.
Remember, as you collect your degrees and leave Newton behind, it is my hope that you find pursuits that demand and receive all that you can give them. When life gets tough, may you never feel alone, but always surrounded by friends and loved ones.
Graduates of the class of 2011, may the success and happy times you’ve known at Lasell College be just a glimpse of all that awaits you, and of even finer moments to come. Thank you, congratulations, and Godspeed!