St. Andrew’s Graduation Speech

It is very nice to be here at the graduation of this class at St. Andrew’s among friends, in the shadow of the Santa Cruz Mountains, on a beautiful summer evening. Now, I am only here because of some very unusual circumstances. My goal when I left the Mayor’s office, and the intense glare of public scrutiny and media attention that goes with it, was to teach and write and to disappear for a while. I wanted Elvis to be sighted more frequently than McEnery.

But you have some very convincing people here, people like Roger Adams, a teach and coach I admire, my old friend Frank C and Chris G, and Ed Lucchessi, a future Attorney General, who wrote me a wonderful letter which finally changed my mind. Like Don Cordeleone, Ed made me an offer I could not refuse. Then they told me that I could bring my daughter Molly, who many of the graduates know from sports at Mitty, and that was the clincher.

There was one other reason: every one likes to be asked to participate in something. Although I am Irish, one of my heroes is the Englishman Winston Churchill. During a very bleak time in his career when all his friends had deserted him he received a telegram from his good friend George Bernard Shaw that read,

Dear Churchill —-

You always need friends in this world. We all desire to be part of something larger than ourselves. Well, a passage like a graduation is the quintessential way to become something larger than the sum of our individual parts. And we always, all of us, need people who will give the most telling advice. It may come from many places. It might be a teacher or a priest or minister or a coach; it might even be a parent, perhaps the most unwelcome source of good advice for any teenager. It could be the biblical refrain to “do good and avoid evil,” or you could turn to the aphorisms of a luminary like Mark Twain who said, “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Or, you might even be inspired by the thoughts of someone as prosaic and nerdy as Cliff Klaven, the know-it-all postman from Cheers. Every class and every group has someone like Cliff. — I see those glances. Well, Cliff’s advice was to always wear comfortable shoes! Think about it – practical, down to earth. It relates to a very significant goal in life: to be happy. Have those other goals, work hard, but don’t let those destroy an enjoyable path there.

Yet, we all know that as you approach a very important milestone in your life, your thoughts are on other things. A summer of enjoying the strains of “Guns ‘n Roses” or “Metallica” or going to see “Cliffhanger” at the movies – even Stallone is acceptable in summer – or tapes of one of my favorite movies, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” – the quest to discover “Just how many pounds of shells can an African Swallow carry?” A relaxing summer is probably at the forefront of your minds. Good!

In thinking about what I should say, my mind traveled back to a not-too-distant time when I looked ahead at a similar journey. It was 1959. I was graduating from St. Joseph’s School, now a downtown parking lot, and on to Bellarmine, a place my older brother attended and where my father went. I was no rocket scientist. Those were the days when if your father went there, you were almost guaranteed a spot. A former war general named Eisenhower was President, Elvis Presley was the rage, and it was the conclusion of the Davey Crockett TV-era. There was a new TV show I liked, about a trail-drive called “Rawhide.” I often wonder whatever happened to the young co-star; his name was Clint Eastwood.

The Red Menace in Russia and China was the bogeyman of the day, and by the way, at St. Joe’s we had regular fire drills as well as the “duck-and-cover” anti-nuclear attack drills. Those old wooden desks were considered very strong by the civil defense authorities, and if they were as hard as the nun’s clickers, they might well stop a bomb. A young Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, was considering a run for the White House. He was given little chance for he was Catholic. Racial segregation was still in place in schools in the South, unacceptable to the hearts of most Americans. It was even still in place in some northern states in the recesses of some people’s minds.

And what about here –

It was years in the future before anyone referred to this place as Silicon Valley, this modern region of almost two million people. San Jose and the rest of the Santa Clara Valley had a population back in 1959 of less than half-a-million, and the place had really not changed much since the 19th century. “Llano des Robles” (Plain of the Oakes), Valley of Heart’s Delight, Poets’ Blossom Valley – from valley wall, a sea of blossoms. What’s in a name? A lot! You see, I lived then and you live now in a very remarkable place, a place of visionaries and dreamers and heroes. Some places are built on geography and some on industry, but this valley was built on something intangible: it was built on dreams-the dreams of immigrants striving for a better future for themselves and their children. Our dreamers arrived from Ireland and Italy, Mexico and El Salvador, Japan and China and Vietnam. There was, unfortunately, a dark side to that dream. New immigrants – your grandparents, or maybe even your parents – endured incredible dangers and hardships, and persevered, often to face great enmity and prejudice here in this valley. It was a special place, but no Eden. My grandparents faced it; others faced worse. The next time you go by the Fairmont Hotel downtown, remember that San Jose’s own Chinatown was destroyed by arson a century ago, and it stood right there.

There are current immigrants from today’s headlines, from China and Mexico, and they are kindred spirits to all those who came before, and to all of us. Each of you has probably faced your own particular set of dangers in today’s modern world, with our disturbing set of problems and society’s failures shown every night on TV news. It is a dangerous world in many ways. A wise man once said that “Hell is truth discovered too late,” and when we see the riots in Los Angeles or the violence in our own city’s streets, we wonder if it is possibly too late for any vision of a better future, for you and your generation, and for those who will come after you.

I will let you in on a little secret, one you probably already suspect in your hearts. It is not too late for that vision. We simply need to remember how to look for it, how to define it, how to make it happen, just as all those dreamers before us saw their future beyond the horizon and followed it here. For a horizon is only the limit of our vision. People like you must look further.

The author of Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, once defined vision as “the art of seeing the invisible.” Let me tell you what is possible to see from where I stand, here on this podium looking out at you today. I see the future. I see young men and women who will be the hope of this valley and our nation. I see you going on to Bellarmine and Mitty and San Jose Academy and St. Francis and Presentation, and instead of complaining about the way things are in this world, instead of longing for “the good old days,” you are setting out to change our society for the better. That does not mean you must go into politics. It means that you make a “difference” as a teacher, or coach, or businesswoman. Or, as a parent, perhaps most of all as a parent. You must give a firm foundation of values like those you received from your parents and built on here at St. Andrews.

No matter your choice of college careers or majors, you will be following in the good footsteps of those who came here before you. All have contributed to the creation of one of the wealthiest and most creative places on earth. I have traveled to many places, and whether it be Dublin or Beijing or Managua, the name Silicon Valley carries great magic. You are the inheritors of this legacy, a legacy of geniuses and scientists and immigrants, and you have a duty to continue it.

I know that this is a lot to contemplate at the end of a long career at St. Andrews and the beginning of a summer … but you must think of it. I wasn’t the best of students, but my father gave me a liking for poetry, among many other things, and I think this evening we can say with the poet:

Under the bludgeoning of chance,
My head is bloody but unbowed.
It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll.
I am the master of my fate,
I am the Captain of my soul.

So I say to you all this evening, that you have the ability to be anything you want and to achieve great things. You are each and every one of you unique. You are all Captains of your souls. And I encourage you to find your own special way to make your mark and change the world. Continue to dream the big dreams and if you achieve those, then dream bigger. I envy you and wish I were back at St. Joseph’s, going along for the ride. It will be a great one.

Congratulations, good luck, and oh, be sure to wear comfortable shoes.

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