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.

BY: Marian Wright Edelman


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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?"

Hard work, initiative, and persistence are still the non-magic carpets to success, for most of us.

Fourth, I hope you will never work just for money. Money won't save your soul by itself or build a decent family or help you sleep at night.

Don't ever confuse wealth or fame with character, and don't try to live through somebody else-whether it's your children, your spouse, your political leaders, or celebrities.

You're going to be held accountable by your creator, our creator, for your unique gifts that nobody else has.

And please don't tolerate or condone moral corruption, whether it's found in high or low places, whatever its color or class.

It is not okay to cheat, even if any corporate or public officials do. Be honest and demand that those who represent you be honest, and never confuse morality with legality. Dr. King often noted that everything Hitler did in Nazi Germany was legal. Don't give everyone the proxy for your conscience.

Fifth lesson, don't be afraid of taking risks or being criticized. If you don't want to be criticized, don't say anything, don't do anything, and don't be anything.

Don't be afraid of failing, it's the way you learn to do things right. It doesn't matter how many times you fall down, it just matters how many times you get up.

And don't wait for everybody to come along to get something done. It is always a few people who get things done and keep them going.

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