Through service, I found a community that embraced me, citizenship that was meaningful, the direction that I’d been seeking. Through service, I discovered how my own improbable story fit in to the larger story of America.
Now, each of you will have the chance to make your own discovery in the years to come. And I say “chance” because, as President Roth indicated, you won’t have to take it. There’s no community service requirement in the outside world; no one’s forcing you to care…You can choose to narrow your concerns and live life in a way that tries to keep your story separate from America’s.
But I hope you don’t. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although I believe you do have that obligation. Not because you have a debt to all those who helped you get to where you are today, although I do believe you have that debt to pay.
It’s because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role that you’ll play in writing the next great chapter in the American story.
It is rare in this country of ours that a person exists who has touched the lives of nearly every single American without many of us even realizing it. And yet, because of Ted Kennedy, millions of children can see a doctor when they get sick. Mothers and fathers can leave work to spend time with their newborns. Working Americans are paid higher wages and compensated for overtime and can keep their health insurance when they change jobs. They are protected from discrimination in the workplace, and those who are born with disabilities can still get an education and health care and fair treatment on the job. Our schools are stronger, and our colleges are filled with more Americans who can afford it. And I have a feeling that Ted Kennedy is not done just yet.
But surely, surely, if one man can achieve so much and make such a difference in the lives of so many people, then each of us can do our part. Surely, if his service and his story can forever shape America’s story, then our collective service can shape the destiny of this generation. At the very least, his living example calls us to try. That is all I ask of you on this joyous day of new beginnings; that is what Senator Kennedy asks of you as well, and that is how we will keep so much needed work going, and the cause of justice everlasting, and the dream alive for generations to come.