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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The sixth lesson is take parenting, family life, and community life seriously, and insist that even those you work for or represent you, do. We need to make sure that your generation of daughters and sons raise your sons to be fair to other people's daughters, and to share, not just help with family responsibilities.

I hope you'll stress family rituals; be good examples for your children. If you cut corners, they will too. If you lie, they will too, and if you spend all of your money on yourself and don't tie any portion of it to charitable and civic causes, they won't either. If you tell or snicker at racial and gender jokes, another generation will pass on the poison that my generation still has not had the courage to snuff out.

Challenge any practices intended to demean, rather than enhance another human being. Stare them down, make them unacceptable in your presence. We must begin through daily moral consciousness to counter the proliferating voices of separation and ethnic and racial and gender and religious divisions, and gain respectability across our land.

Don't ever confuse style with substance, and political charm with decency or sound policy. Look behind the words and pay attention to what our leaders do, not just what they say.

The last lesson-two lessons-and I'm almost done.

Listen for the genuine within yourself. "Small," Einstein said, "is the number of them that see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts." Try to be one of them.

Howard Thurman, the great black theologian, said, "There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls."

There are so many noises and competing demands in our lives that many of us never find out who we are. Learn to be quiet enough to hear the sound of a genuine within yourself, so that you can hear it in other people.

Last lesson: Never think life is not worth living or that you cannot make a difference. Never give up. I don't care how hard it gets-and it's going to get very hard sometimes. An old proverb says that when you get to your wit's end, that is where God lives.

Harriet Beecher Stowe said, "When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn."

Hang in with life, and don't think you have to win immediately or even at all to make a difference. Sometimes it's important to lose the things that matter.

I'll give Shel Silverstein, the children's book writer, my last word, because we do have to have a transforming social movement for our children in this beginning of the 21st century and third millennium, and we're going to have to do it together and with a sense of urgency. So many people keep talking about what can't be done. But Shel Silverstein said:

"Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never-haves. Then, listen close to me."

"Anything can happen, child. Anything can be."

If we believe in it, if we have faith in it, if we dream it, if we struggle for it, and if we refuse to give up, we can make America's place where truly no child is left behind.

What good does it matter for us to be the richest, most powerful nation on earth and lose our soul?

God speed to you as you go out to face life.

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