Dr. Papp, faculty, staff, distinguished guests, parents, friends…and of course the students of Kennesaw State University’s Class of 2011 …congratulations!
I am honored to be here with you today.
This morning, we celebrate all of the hard work and sacrifice you’ve made over the past several years to obtain your degree. Right now, it may feel like you’ve achieved a major personal milestone.
But you’ve also done something that is important for the future of this region, this state, and our nation as a whole. You see, I believe that young people – and by young, I mean Generation X and younger –-- my generation and yours --–are in what I like to think of as our “Jimmy Jenkins” moment.
Now, you’re probably wondering: Who is Jimmy Jenkins? Jimmy was a young man who enlisted for service in the Army during World War II.
He was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for basic training. When he arrived, the first person he met was Sergeant Johnson, who was very tough.
As fate would have it, Jimmy did not appear to be a very good soldier. He was routinely late for reverie and his bed was never quite tight enough, so he always had to clean the latrine. Despite all of that, Jimmy survived basic training because he loved his country and was sent to Europe to assist with the great invasion of Normandy.
Things got tough and wouldn’t you know Sergeant Johnson was deployed to Europe as well. As soon as he landed, he assembled his battalion and there standing right in front of him was Jimmy Jenkins. He said to himself, “Not again!” So, he looked around, and out in the distance, he saw a mountain. He yelled, “Jimmy Jenkins, go guard that hill.”
Jimmy gathered his belongings and built his fox hole. Late one night, a group of spies from the Axis armies was climbing up the mountain. Jimmy sprung into action, throwing grenades and machine gun fire. The Sergeant saw the action and grabbed a group of men to help Jimmy, but by the time they got there all the fighting was done.
The Sergeant looked into the fox hole, and Jimmy was sitting there with a cigarette in hand, trembling. The Sergeant said with pride, “Jimmy, Jimmy, I am so proud of you, I never knew you had it in you.” Jimmy looked up at the Sergeant, hands still trembling, and said “Sergeant, things are a little different when you are in business for yourself.”
You, the Kennesaw State University class of 2011 --- you are all in business for yourself. You are responsible for your own success or failure.
But whether you succeed matters --- not only for the outcome of your own life, but to our nation as a whole.
What do I mean by that? It means that as you stand here today, you must ask yourself this question: What will be my collective place in history?
To ask what you, as an individual, hope to achieve is standard upon this occasion. But, I believe that is no longer 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 numerous challenges --- from a looming pension crisis, decaying city infrastructure and the responsibility of keeping a city safe in the midst of a deep economic downturn which tears at our sense of community.
That’s the situation in which we find ourselves. We’re facing international threats that were unimaginable to us as Americans before Sept. 11. We’re facing competition from countries such as China, India, and Brazil. All of this is happening when our deficits are growing, our environment is under siege, and our education system is not delivering the results we need for the future of our children.
You all, though, by virtue of the degrees you are receiving from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences today, can shift that paradigm. Your classmates who studied at the Bagwell College of Education can have a real impact on the students whose futures soon will be in their hands --- congratulations to Kennesaw for becoming the state’s #1 producer of teachers this year, surpassing UGA.
Your friends who studied at the Wellstar College of Health and Human Services hopefully will go on to make major advancements in improving the health of Georgia’s residents. And the list goes on and on.
But make no mistake about it: To achieve that kind of positive change, you are going to have to become leaders who do things that are hard.
I would submit to you that my and your generation have not been challenged and tested to face and do hard things like our forefathers and mothers.
We have not battled the kind of evil at the heart of World War I and World War II. We have not suffered like the Greatest Generation during the Great Depression. And we have not been tested like the courageous men and women who sat, stood, marched – did what it took – during the Civil Rights Movement.
And as a result, I believe we are in danger of becoming a generation that lacks the moral will to do hard things that matter. Things that change our course for the better.
So I came this way this morning to suggest that you choose to turn into adversity; that you choose to spend some part of your life turning into the fire. I believe that turning into the fire is where greatness is.
I believe that of all the virtues we may possess, strength is the most important, because without it, no other virtue is possible. It is strength that pushes you forward when the darkness is so total.
Therefore, the decisions we must make to right the course of our city, region and nation will be hard decisions. While the problems we’re saddled with are not of our making, we are nonetheless responsible for solving them.
I often reflect on President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address and many of his speeches. He was a young leader, who came to power during a period of rapid change. 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.
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 during 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.
We simply cannot keep kicking the can down the road --- and I am confident we won’t embrace that cowardly option.
Kennesaw Class of 2011, here it is - - there is tremendous power in deciding.
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.
Today, I ask that you become a full partner in this effort.
I need for you to use your extraordinary physical capacity --- the energy of youth --- to get ready, to fall in love with the grind. The grind is all those moments alone that people never see, but lead to all those moments when they say, “I knew you were going to be successful all along.”
All of this is easier said than lived, but I know what you can do. When you stumble, keep moving, when you are down, don’t stop. Remember that you are a part of something that is bigger than you are. Because at the end of the day, you extend your own life by contributing to something that will outlast you.
You must move from new to next, and from better to best.
So, in closing, I will leave you with another story, one that has kept me on my feet during hard times.
When I was a boy, I loved the Dallas Cowboys. Now that I am the Mayor of Atlanta, I love me some Atlanta Falcons. But I used to follow the Cowboys, especially Tony Dorsett and later Emmitt Smith. And one day, I was watching a show about John Madden, and how he coined the phrase “yards after contact” from a play involving Emmitt Smith.
The play was rather simple. The Cowboys were on their one yard line and Troy Aikman took the snap and tossed the ball to Smith, as soon as he touched the ball, he got hit with such force he should have been knocked to the ground.
But Emmitt Smith kept on his feet and spun around and rather than stopping him, the hit propelled him forward for the longest run of his career. So when the door gets shut in your face for that dream job, remember yards after contact. When you get that first performance review and it wasn’t what you expected, remember yards after contact. When your spirit is crushed and you think you’ll never rebound, remember yards after contact…
Kennesaw Class of 2011…remember yards after contact.
Thank you, and Godspeed.
Last updated: 3/28/2012 10:30:35 AM