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Commencement Address, Bowie State University

President Burnim, thank you very, very much.  To the Class of 2007, congratulations, you did it!  (Applause.)

Now, I’d like you to help me set the proper tone.  The President talked about the proper tone for this ceremony, and so I’d like to set the proper tone here before the mighty Bowie State University.  I think we both know that there’s only one way to do that, as you may have heard these three words composing almost one syllable in the past.  Here it goes:

O’Malley:  BSU!
Audience:  BSU!
O’Malley:  BSU!
Audience:  BSU!

Now having set the proper formal tone — (Applause) — I wish that worked everywhere I went — (Laughter).

President Burnim, distinguished faculty and friends and alumni and of course the graduates of Bowie State University, thank you for this honor.  It’s a privilege to share in this celebration with you.  This is one of the happy, happy days of life, and I especially want to say a word to the parents, loved ones, and spouses who are here.  We would not be here today full of excitement about the things that are to come were it not for all of your love and your support.  So on behalf of the graduates and behalf of the people of their State, I say thank you to all of you for everything that you’ve done to make this day possible.  (Applause.)

This is a special day.  This is the very first time that I have been able to do commencement as Governor at a four-year college.  I was just waiting for the right invitation from the right university.  (Applause.)

So, here we go.  Today we celebrate success and we celebrate excellence.  And today we also celebrate friendships that I’m sure that many of you have made here that will last a lifetime.  We pray in thanksgiving for the past.  We pray in anticipation of the future, and we pray that our Governor’s remarks will be brief so we can go to the after-parties.  (Laughter.)

But this truly is a special day.  It is not only your last mandatory lecture, it is also the moment of your achievement and, more importantly, the moment of your strongest promise. Not the end, but the beginning — the beginning of the pursuit of things eternal, a day when we proclaim our belief in the dignity of every individual, a day when we affirm our own responsibility to advance the common good, and a day when we appreciate in our core the joy that comes from understanding that there is a unity to spirit and to matter, and that what we do in our own lifetimes does matter.

At the start of a new semester at Georgetown University, the renowned historian Carroll Quigley used to share this wisdom with his new class, and I wanted to pass it on to you.  He would say the thing that got you here today is belief in the future — belief that the future can be better than the present and that people will and should sacrifice in the present to get to that better future.

What you accomplish here, my friends, is a ripple from the past, as all those old barriers come crumbling down once again, and it will become a wave to all that you will achieve elsewhere.  Today you’re looking backwards, and you’re looking forwards, and you’re doing it at the same time — the very essence, I think, of that unshakable belief that Professor Quigley spoke about — future preference, the idea that, in fact, tomorrow can be better than today and that each of us has a responsibility, personally, to make it so.

As you could imagine from President Burnim’s introduction, I was asked to be here probably not because of my musical achievement but because I am the Governor of your State.  As I said, this is my first commencement at a four-year university.  And the fact is that higher education and our support, our support as a State, our support as a community, our support as citizens for affordable and excellent higher education is probably one of the clearest and best examples of that notion of future preference.  And nowhere is that clearer than here at Bowie State, where the strong and patriotic value we share comes to life, where we feel that powerful yearning to make our world a better place.  What began as a small school in the rough waters of the civil war has become a center of energy, of daring, a strong force for change in a state known for leading the way.

But the story of this university, that story that you continue to write with your own lives, the very one you carry into this world, stands not so much for quiet defiance, but for those who are willing to change what is wrong about this world, not for the shorter aims of others, but for the bigger and the more noble ideas of self and community; not for what’s safe but for tough moral choices; not for comforts of today, but for our better tomorrow, a tomorrow that all of our children will share.

And, so, the future we prefer is accelerated, propelled, in a sense begins in our places of higher learning, of discovery.  That is where the hope of Maryland and the work of Bowie State have always come together.  And I cannot thank you enough for everything you did to continue that story with your hard work over these last years, taking the strength of this place also to the Statehouse last month.  President Burnim, I want to thank you for your advocacy, for your voice and for the presence of Bowie.  Without your help, I’m not sure that special session would have been very special at all.

At the time, many were calling it risky, many said that we had lost our capacity as a people to prefer that better future. But, we continued to work together.  We continued to hammer home about the things that unite us.  And we found consensus.  Together we chose to make college education more affordable for working families by creating the first dedicated stream of funding for higher education in the long history of the State of Maryland.  (Applause.)

And we’re not done. But together, we restored fiscal responsibility, and we made our income tax fairer and more progressive.  We created a green fund for the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.  We extended healthcare to 100,000 more Marylanders.  And why did we do these things?  We did these things — and we did them together — because we still prefer a better future to what most people would say, by any measure in our State, is actually a pretty good present.  But as Marylanders, we prefer a better future.

So, my fellow citizens, as I close, I want to underscore to you and say as plainly as I possibly can, that this world really needs you.  This world needs each of you, probably more than many of you fully understand.  In a real sense, all of us have been waiting for you.  Your mothers and fathers have been waiting for you.  Our business managers, our economists, our poets have all been waiting for you.  Our computer scientists, our visionaries have been waiting for you.  Your grandmothers and grandfathers have been waiting for you.  Your children and grandchildren as yet unborn have been waiting for you.

In our State, where there is no such thing as a spare American, we need each and every one of you.  Every single person and every single step is important, and God wants every partial victory.  So, whatever path you choose, put the important lessons of this place into action and remember that:

“No great cause is ever truly won or lost.  The creed must constantly be restated and the battle renewed, for some ideas are universal, catholic and undying.  They do not pass out of fashion or age with time, for they represent eternal things.  They are the guardians of the freedom of the human spirit and the proof of what our mortal frailty can achieve.”

God bless you all.  The struggle continues for the better future we would all prefer.  Congratulations.  (Applause.)

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