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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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.

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.

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Marian Wright Edelman
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