Marian Wright Edelman: Resetting Our Nation's Moral Compass

The world can be a better place if this year's graduates learn the simple values of hard work and of putting yourself second.

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And if there are white graduates among this group who feel entitled to leadership by accident of birth, I want to remind you that the world you face and live in is two-thirds nonwhite and poor. That our nation, like our globalizing world, is becoming a mosaic of much greater diversity that you`re going to have to understand and respect and work with.

I hope you will always keep growing and learning. Your Colgate degree will get you in the door, it may, but it won't get you to the top of the career ladder or keep you there. You're going to have to work hard and continuously. And I know I don't have to say, don't ever be lazy.

Do your homework. Pay attention to detail. Take care and pride in your work. And don't wait around for anybody else to discover you or do you a favor. Don't assume a door is closed, push on it. Don't assume that if it was closed yesterday, that it is closed today. Don't ever stop learning and ever stop growing and ever stop questioning.

The second lesson is just setto thoughtful goals, and work quietly and systematically towards them. Don't feel you have to talk if you don't have something that matters to say. Resist quick-fix, simplistic answers, and easy gains and slick marketing slogans.

So many of us talk big and act small, so often we get bogged down in our own ego needs and lose sight of deeper needs. It's okay to want to feel important, if it's not at the expense of doing important deeds.


Even if you don't get the credit-and one of the things I've learned in Washington is you can get an awful lot done if you don't mind doing the work and giving other people the credit-you know what you do, and God knows what you do, and that is all that should matter.

The third lesson, which comes from Daddy, is to assign yourself. He couldn't ever stand to see his children idle, and he would often ask us, "Did the teacher give you homework?" If we were to say no, he would say, "Assign yourself some."

The bottom line is, don't wait around. Don't wait around for your boss, or your friends, or your spouse, or partner to direct you to do what you are able to figure out for yourself. And don't do just as little as you can to get by.

Don't be a political bystander and grumble. Vote, and hold all of those you vote for accountable for what they do in your name.

It sounds like you don't need to be told this, but we often need to be reminded: If you see a need, don't ask, "Why doesn't somebody do something?" Ask, "Why don't I do something?"

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Marian Wright Edelman
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