President George W. Bush: 'Revive the Spirit of Citizenship'
Commencement address at University of Notre Dame, May 2001.
Our task is clear, and it's difficult: we must build our country's unity by extending our country's blessings.
We make that commitment because we are Americans. Aspiration is the essence of our country. We believe in social mobility, not social Darwinism. We are the country of the second chance, where failure is never final. And that dream has sometimes been deferred. It must never be abandoned.
We are committed to compassion for practical reasons. When men and women are lost to themselves, they are also lost to our nation. When millions are hopeless, all of us are diminished by the loss of their gifts.
And we're committed to compassion for moral reasons. Jewish prophets and Catholic teaching both speak of God's special concern for the poor. This is perhaps the most radical teaching of faith -- that the value of life is not contingent on wealth or strength or skill. That value is a reflection of God's image.
Much of today's poverty has more to do with troubled lives than a troubled economy. And often when a life is broken, it can only be restored by another caring, concerned human being. The answer for an abandoned child is not a job requirement -- it is the loving presence of a mentor. The answer to addiction is not a demand for self-sufficiency -- it is personal support on the hard road to recovery.
The hope we seek is found in safe havens for battered women and children, in homeless shelters, in crisis pregnancy centers, in programs that tutor and conduct job training and help young people when they happen to be on parole. All these efforts provide not just a benefit, but attention and kindness, a touch of courtesy, a dose of grace.
Mother Teresa said that what the poor often need, even more than shelter and food -- though these are desperately needed, as well -- is to be wanted. And that sense of belonging is within the power of each of us to provide. Many in this community have shown what compassion can accomplish.
Notre Dame's own Lou Nanni is the former director of South Bend's Center for the Homeless -- an institution founded by two Notre Dame professors. It provides guests with everything from drug treatment to mental health service, to classes in the Great Books, to preschool for young children. Discipline is tough. Faith is encouraged, not required. Student volunteers are committed and consistent and central to its mission. Lou Nanni describes this mission as "repairing the fabric" of society by letting people see the inherent "worth and dignity and God-given potential" of every human being.