(Commencement address delivered at St. Francis High School in Humphrey, Nebraska – circa 1987)

 

Father, Teachers, Proud parents and family, Fellow Graduates.

 

Congratulations

 

Graduation is a day of looking back of remembering the good times and the hard work. It is a day for good byes to teachers and friends. After just a few months most of you will never again have close contact with each other and certainly not with the intimacy that you have known. But mostly graduation is a commencement, a day in which to peer into the future and lay out plans for its conquest.

 

Indeed, you have come a come a long way and like the infant who is about to leave the cradle you are about to learn to crawl. Barring massive plague or nuclear holocaust, most of the information which will available at the end of your life time exists today only in sporadic glimmers in the eyes of thinkers and dreamers. We live in unprecedented times, times in which we can reasonably expect of ourselves a performance which will surpass even the most dynamic feats of the Greek gods of Olympus. They had thunderbolts, we will have particle beams and high energy lasers packing the punch of a nuclear explosion. The gods navigated with grace across the sky in winged chariots, even now almost hourly the manned Soviet Mir space station glides across our sky. The goddesses possessed the gift of life and the power to shape it. We already have the ability to create simple life forms that never existed before and are starting to redesign ones that do exist. Olympians could travel the length and breath of the universe in a twinkling of an eye. We know that atomic clocks on orbiting space craft run slower than clocks at rest on earth, giving us reasonable indications that the faster a craft travels, the slower time passes and the shorter length becomes making it possible for us to design a craft so that, like the angels, we could travel the length and breath of the universe in the twinkling of an eye at near light speeds. Our similarities with the abilities of the legendary gods of the founders of Western thought, must necessarily cause us to ponder what insights those ancient Greeks had, for their inspirations are on the way to becoming our accomplishments. Could they possibly have known that the seeds which Plato and Euclid planted could mature into creatures which so much resembled their gods?

 

But in the continuing paradox of the higher life forms and a lesson learned from the mythical city of Atlantis, the greater our abilities, the greater our risks. The bigger we are the harder we fall. No one can underestimate the destruction that could be caused by nuclear accident or war which would plunge the planet into a long nuclear winter destroying not only civilization but possibly all higher life forms on this tiny planet which circles one little star among a trillion trillion stars. Our high population density, commercial interdependency and ability to travel easily and swiftly to almost every point on the globe almost assures the non containment of any lethal virus that may develop. Our future could easily be as dark as it could be bright.

 

There are two great threats which you will face in your lifetime. one is a foreign threat. The other is a domestic threat. The foreign threat is not from the Soviets or the Chinese for even daily our social systems increase in similarity and today the systems are as alike as they were different on the day I graduated. It was once said that the difference between the Americans and the Soviets was that the Americans worked mostly for themselves while the Soviets worked mostly for the Government. As you go into the work force, you will soon discover that here in America we too now, more and more, work mostly for the Government. The Average American two person household has an income of slightly over $30,000.00 of every dollar they earn they will pay federal tax at the 28% bracket, 16% of their wage will be paid in Social Security tax, and approximately 5% in state income taxes. That's about 49% and that's not saying anything about sales tax, property tax, gasoline tax, excise tax, estate tax, inheritance tax, alternative minimum tax, corporate tax, and a host of others. Like it or not, Carl Marx would be quite pleased with the changes in this country in the last 50 years, but then again we are quite please with the recent changes in the Soviet Union. Our societies are an ever decreasing threat to each other because we are on a course to becoming too similar. The great bulk of the people on this planet have adopted the emerging American ‑ Soviet value system. Even the Chinese have started down the one way street to Westernization. Only one group condemns the technological and scientific changes and attitudes which are a part of our every day world, damning our efforts to become more like the Greek gods, and calling our President the embodiment of Satan and calling us his army. The clash with the unyielding world of the followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini has the potential to develop into the last great war. Armed with nuclear weapons, they would be insane enough to use them in the name of Allah. Western Civilization is viewed as the ultimate evil and religious fanatics have historically engaged in madness in the name of eliminating one ultimate evil or another.

 

Domestically, the greatest threat and challenge that you will face will be my generation. You see, the baby boom generation will be in the majority, a majority which will remember all too well that it had a very difficult time supporting Social Security of the war generation before us. We will look to the precedent set by the war generation who paid 3 or 4 percent in Social Security tax and charged my generation 16%, and, if we have to, we will not feel guilty in charging your generation 40% to pay for our Social Security and medical care. The conflict over that issue will ever increasingly raise such issues as what age is the proper age to cut off medical treatment. You can rest assured that my generation will use its majority at the polls to fight for its right to life. There is only one way to avoid that confrontation. As you think about what careers you are going into remember there is only one thing my generation will give up its Social Security checks for and that is a cure for aging, a pill that assures that youthful vigor lasts a lot longer than it does now, enabling us to raise the retirement age to 75 or more to conserve the Social Security Trust Fund. Your generation and my generation working together to develop that pill is the only way to avoid a very ugly confrontation 30 years from now. That pill will itself then bring on new problems dealing with adequate food and space on this planet and the issues of the duty to die or the duty not to be born. Scary Stuff. Scary Stuff that can be avoided by proper development of our oceans and colonization of space. Life Science research and Space Exploration are not luxury items. They are political imperatives if we are to avoid a very nasty scene. It is no wonder that while we drowned in our welfare programs and talk of cutting our space program and restricting our medical research, the Soviets are sacrificing the pleasures of the here and now to forge ahead in the life sciences and to establish a manned colony on Mars.

 

It has been said that we are a rope stretched between what we were and what we can become, the we are great because we are a bridge and not a goal, we can be loved because we are a transition and not a perishing. Inherent in that statement is an assumption that we are better today than what we were and that the children of the future will be better than what we are today. Also inherent in that statement is assumption that we are all equally important in the chain of time for with the absence of but one single link the entire chain looses its strength and the power of the future becomes the chaos of tomorrow. Therein lies the call to greatness for those of us who share this moment in history.

 

A challenge to the astronomer who listens with his radio telescope to the echoes of the big bang, the genesis disturbance, 20 billion years ago and who searches the sky for light and dark matter, computing its mass in order to forecast whether the universe will expand forever or in a poetic cycle collapse into itself.

 

A challenge to the particle physicist who breaks apart the atom into more fundamental particles only to find that those basic particles are more like waves of nothing than particles of something; that they flash in and out of existence giving rise to the question that existence may not exist at all and that in fact the universe may add up to nothing, perhaps only an illusion in the mind of the beholder or perhaps the Creator, giving rise to the question whether the Judeo‑Christian and the scientific atheist are singing the same praises but only in a different language.

 

A challenge to the artificial intelligence engineer to find a way to link the superior intelligence of the computer with the aspirations of the mind. To take the technology we have now to store millions of pages of information on something the size of a dinner plate and couple that with micro processors made only of energy waves and then make those processors privy to our thoughts and us privy to theirs.

 

A challenge to the biochemist and life form engineer to continue to crack the code which controls the formation of basic lipids and proteins, to learn to turn off and on the processes of cellular growth and destruction, to design species capable of independent survival on the surfaces of Mars and beyond.

 

A challenge to the medical profession to develop phase III medicine. There are three phases in medicine. Phase I medicine is the Doc. Adams of Gunsmoke a warm hand and a bullet to bite on. Phase II is the expensive and cumbersome medicine of Marcus Wilby M.D., of the iron lung and the respirator, the dialysis machine and the transplant surgeon. It is a form of medicine that is reasonably effective but too expensive for us to be able to deliver to an increasing aged population. Phase III medicine is cheap and efficient cures at the sub cellular level. If we are to have medicine for all in the future it must be Phase III medicine. The Salk and Sabine vaccines are Phase III medicines and Phase III is typified by Dr. McCoy of Star Trek.

 

A challenge to the aerospace engineer to build the launch and near inter planetary space commuter vehicles necessary for the colonization of the near planets.

 

A challenge to the statesmen and women to forge a world federation where different political, religious, and economic philosophies can carry themselves to their logical conclusions free from the treats of military interference by a foreign ideology.

 

A challenge to the agricultural producer to produce food sufficient to feed the world population and deliver it to where it is needed and in such a manner so as not to foster rapid uncontrolled population growth among peoples unable or unwilling to contribute to the world economy.

 

A challenge to the banker and capital manager to deploy and organize resources to achieve the goals of society.

 

A challenge to the educator to teach not information for information now becomes outdated even as it is taught but rather to teach the tools for creative thought, accessing changing information, and the wisdom to know when to discard the experiences of the past when they are no longer useful.

 

A challenge to the philosopher to live all the great "isms" and glean from each the seed of the great beauty saw in them by people who died for what they saw in them, and to take each ism and fit it into the jigsaw puzzle of the philosophy of the future.

 

A challenge to government to create an environment where we are not slaves of the present but workers for the future, where there is equality of opportunity for all.

 

These are challenges which may sound far fetched but if our culture survives for the next 75 years they are challenges which wi11 be met.

 

In seeking to meet the challenge of tomorrow beware of certain things:

 

Beware of people, institutions or estates of old wealth and long standing power, for in the vast majority of such cases that quality which merited the accumulation of the wealth and power has long been lost and forgotten and such people, institutions, or estates have as their basic function the retention of their power and wealth by what ever means necessary. They are hollow chambers, empty tombs, soulless bodies.

 

Beware of get rich quick schemes for among them there are far more swindles than opportunities.

 

Beware of the legal system and minimize your contact with it. Keep your transactions simple and honest, remember if you can't easily understand it you better not be involved with it.

 

Beware of those who cloak themselves too much in religion or the flag for among them are far more hypocrites than saints, far more despots than patriots.

 

Beware of mood or mind altering drugs for they will cause your brain to burn bright just as a light bulb burns bright when excess voltage is applied to it only to then quickly burn out never to light the darkness again.

 

Beware of the politician who seeks re‑election over and over again but never seems to accomplish anything all that remarkable for that politician is serving the interest of either ego or special groups and not the interests of the future.

 

Beware of borrowed money for it has not been earned and it can enslave you just as it has enslaved our government and the taxpayer. Borrow it sparingly and never for things that decrease in value or that are consumed.

 

Beware of any force which seeks to restrict what you can see, or speak, or think, or argue, or experiment with for the good which comes from the freedom to discover and the freedom to express far exceeds the benefits of censorship no matter what the reasoning.

 

Life in this age being what it is there is but two alternatives to either return to the jungle or move to the heavens. In your life time we will do one or the other. Far from being finished your education is just beginning, the future will shake the very foundations of what you have learned so far. If you are just reasonably bright, you will learn and then disregard as useless more in the next twenty years than you have learned to date. No other generation has ever had as much to gain or lose as this one. Don't be hindered by the past but be inspired by­ imagination and the future, for the world of the past is the property of dead men while the world of the future belongs to the dreamers.

 

There isn't much guidance for you in this new age and what little there is may come from Nineteenth century philosophers gifted with an insight into the profound forces which would shape a time two centuries into their future, great dreamers and thinkers stood as it were on the mountains posted 'twixt then and tomorrow and heralded the coming centuries as a new and indescribable variety of light, happiness, relief, enlivenment, encouragement and the dawning day. They proclaimed that "At last the horizon seems open once more, granting even that it is not bright; our ships can at last put out to sea in the face of every danger, every hazard is again permitted to the discerner; the sea, our sea, again lies open before us; perhaps never before did such an open sea exist..."

 

You are challenged to bring your sails to full mast, and to chart a course into the hurricane of life, remembering always the words of Admiral Farragut, "Damn the torpedoes full speed ahead".

 

In closing two salutes:

 

One from our distant future, in the words of the Vulcan, Spock, the second from our ancient past, in Hebrew.

 

"Live long and prosper"

 

SHALOM!


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