Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Father's Day at UCLA

So what a day. I have just returned from Los Angeles to Camp Shelby, having been given authorization to execute what was, unquestionably, the best speaking engagement of my career. I was the commencement speaker to the 2006 graduating class of the Department of English at UCLA. It was a great honor and a privilege.

What made the engagement so amazing was that it was Father's Day and, speaking before an audience of 4,500 in Pauley Pavilion, somewhere out there in the sea of people were my two sons, my father, Robert Strong and my Step-Father, Chuck Ramey. It was a Father's Day I will never forget. The kudos I received from the grads and dads, paled in comparison with the knowledge that I got to share this day that we honor our fathers with the men that have been a fatehr to me and the children that I have fathered.

The topic of my address was the motto of the University of California itself; "Let there be light" and a challenge to the graduates to be that light unto the world. To illuminate the dark places and to make a difference in the world. I think it went over well.

I have excerpted a part of that speech below:

I hope to remind you to carry within your hearts and minds an acute awareness of the study of the human condition that you have honed within these walls over the past several years and to share that light with the world.

The magnificent works of art that you have mastered are products of creative illumination that have allowed each of us as individuals to develop a subtle and enhanced understanding of the human condition beyond our own experiences. That is the gift of literature. To illuminate the dark places of our world and our daily lives.

The broad liberal arts education that you have received here at UCLA demands that you hold in your minds, hearts and indeed your very actions that consciousness of the human condition, for we are within it, experiencing it, drinking it in and exhaling it at every moment.

It is this human condition that each of us has the opportunity to affect; to ease the suffering and to amplify the ecstatic. It is not an easy road. Indeed, it is a hard road to be a source of light in dark times. Be the light. Let there be light.

In the act of serving our country, I have had the opportunity to experience this human condition in so many parts of the world. Whether in discussing the drama of Vaclav Havel in Wenceslas Square on the day that Czechoslovakia became two countries, to talking a New Orleanian survivor of Hurricane Katrina into leaving her decrepit, toxic home before it fell down upon her, to waking up the day after my vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in the valleys of ancient Mesopotamia to see the gentle, omniscient elegance of the Euphrates River as she flowed past me and all other concerns, the persistence of the human drive to bring a change for the good, to create excellence or to fall into the pit of destruction, I have observed, are seeds within each of us.

The chaos and horror reigning down daily on the people of Iraq are also paralleled by the persistence of hope and the gracious offering of hospitality, food, communion and assistance from a people who live every day hoping and believing in a better world for themselves and their children. Inshallah!

The poppy fields of Kandahar once offered a dream of Xanadu to the mind of Coleridge, yet now are the scourge of addiction and corruption in the narcotic greed that now drives the exhaustive cultivation of a beautiful flower in the ancient lands I commence my journey toward tomorrow.

So how does any of this affect you at your commencement? I ask you to be an active participant in the evolving human condition that surrounds you across the globe and in your apartment, in your hometown and in the capitals of our nations.

You will have the ability to see situations before you for what they are. So get to it.

So I think it went extremely well and from the thank yous and the bombastic but sincere words like, "That was the best speechI I have ever heard" I received from so many of the graduates, I am sure that I had made an impact.

Now, I have returned to Camp Shelby, only to find out that I am not flying tomorrow as was initially planned but that I will be here for at least another week.

While that is frustrating news, it is hardly terrible as it will enable me to catch up on some overdue work and get back onto a running program. I need it.

-out here


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