Good afternoon President Becker, distinguished guests, faculty, parents, family and most of all the Georgia State University Class of 2010.
Georgia State University Alumni have a very special place in my heart and play a vital leadership role in our city, region and state.
My brother, Tracy Reed, was a student at Georgia State - - along with my Chief of Staff, Candace Byrd, and my Senior Policy Adviser, David Bennett.
And I am proud to say that the newest addition to my Office of International Affairs, Noah Downer, is among today’s graduating class. Noah is getting his Masters today, but I expect to see him at work tomorrow.
In all seriousness, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Noah, and the entire Georgia State University Class of 2010 on your graduation - - and thank you for the honor of being a part of your special day.
I promise to make my role a small one by keeping my remarks short and to the point.
I wish the speaker would have said that at my graduation.
So let’s make a deal.
I think it is important at commencements for graduates to express their deep appreciation for those who sacrificed to make this special day possible.
As you know, no one made it this far on their own.
When I give the word, I want the entire Class of 2010 to applaud those special people in your lives - - and the louder you applaud, the shorter my speech will be - - that is the deal.
Ready? Let’s go!!
Wow! We won’t be here long at all.
As I thought of what message to share today - - one you might find thought provoking - - and one which would encourage you and help you begin to frame your outlook on life going forward - - I was reminded of a simple question I was asked upon my own graduation.
Nearly, two decades later, I still reflect upon the question - - and therefore, wanted to share it with the emerging leaders of your generation.
Class of 2010, what will be your collective place in history?
To ask what you, as an individual, hope to achieve is standard upon this occasion. However, all things considered, it may not be a big enough question for this time in our nation’s history.
I say this because you are inheriting a world far different from the one you were born into. Much has changed in a generation.
Our cities, our nation and our world are faced with sobering challenges - - challenges which demand we make hard, yet responsible choices for our future.
For example, as Mayor, I am faced with the continuous challenge of having to offer much more in the way of services . . . with far less in the way of resources to face the challenges of massive unfunded pension liabilities, a decaying infrastructure and keeping a city safe in the midst of a deep economic downturn which tears at our sense of community.
Atlanta is far from alone in this predicament. Every day, I talk with young elected officials across the country, like Corey Booker in Newark and Gavin Newsome in San Francisco, about the challenges of governing today.
At the exact same time our nation faces the most competitive field in its young history - - as China grows, as well as India, Brazil and other nations across the planet. These dynamics are compounded by growing deficits which must be reversed, an environment in steady decline and an education system that is not strong enough to preserve our union as we know it.
While we should not view other nations in a hostile fashion, we must be absolutely clear, that we are engaged in a competition that requires the best of us and the best of each of you.
While the issues are complex. The consensus outlook is simple.
We forged our worldview around the inescapable conclusion that we, and I mean all of us, are the generation that is going to have to do things in leadership that are hard.
When I speak to young people, I concede that our generation was not around for the World War I Great Depression, World War II or the Civil Rights Movement.
Those challenges were courageously met by those who came before us. These adversities compelled our parents and grandparents to step up, to stand with others and to act responsibly, even boldly, on behalf of the greater good.
They did, and their success forever defined them as the “greatest generations.”
The global financial dynamics of the 21st century are setting the stage for our own narrative.
While a moniker has yet to be given to them - - the times we face carry equally significant implications for the future. Our world is definitely at a crossroads.
Therefore, the decisions we must make to right this ship will be hard decisions. While the problems we’re saddled with are not of our making, we are nonetheless responsible for solving them.
We are grown-ups now.
Next month is the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s inaugural address. During his presidency, he said we should not pray for lives of ease, but rather we should pray that we become stronger women and men.
I really think this is the mandate we must embrace. The tests of our time demand it.
It has been said that of all the virtues one could possess, strength was the most important - - for without strength no other virtue is possible.
A primary strength of this generation is born from our willingness to try new things, to be creative, to adapt - - and also from our willingness to sacrifice.
That is why I believe the city, the state and the country is making a mistake in not asking more from us.
When you look at where America is, the bottom line is that for the country to do and to be what we have been - - certainly within the last 40 to 50 years - - there must be a generation tough enough to stick out its chin and take the hit - - and get on with it.
So that we don’t lose our bearings, I think it is time to begin having the types of mature and honest conversations necessary to deal effectively with the new economic realities we are facing as a nation.
We simply cannot keep kicking the can down the road - - and I am confident we won’t embrace that cowardly option.
Class of 2010, here it is - - there is tremendous power in deciding.
Be advised: a line drawn in the sand is truly the birth of personal power.
Individually and collectively, when we decide to be first . . . and/or to be excellent - - we shine a light of tremendous clarity in our lives.
For we know being the best demands in whatever field of choice the strictest standards of accountability - - and the refusal to compromise or defer in the face of the challenges born from our choices.
As a generation, we must decide - - like those who came before us - - to do what is necessary - - to do what is hard - - to face every challenge that stands in the way of the continued advancement of this nation - - and our leading role in this world - - and today we ask that you become a full partner in this effort.
I recently read about how the famed attorney William Kunstler kept a reproduction of Michaelango’s staute of David on his desk. It is unique because it is the only important artistic work of David before he throws the stone to commence the battle with Goliath.
Looking at it, Kunstler pondered the lesson inherent in the pose and thought, “David is standing there thinking . . . Do I dare? Do I dare? If I throw the rock and I miss . . . I am one dead Israelite. If I just wound him, I am in the same position. But if I strike him and defeat him, I have done a great deal for myself and more importantly, for my people.”
Class of 2010, each of us faces such moments before we dare to do something significant.
Granted, if we lack the will to act and just allow the thought to pass - - no one outside of ourselves will know. However, there is no worse feeling in the depths of our spirit than knowing our defining moment came and went - - and we did not respond.
Class of 2010, as leaders we find ourselves faced with a similar choice - - and collectively we must ask, “Do I dare? Do I dare?”
Congratulations and Godspeed.