It’s your graduation: I’m your uninvited guest speaker.
I’m Rumi’s unexpected visitor, inviting myself into your guest house.
I am perhaps a joy, a depression, a meanness, a pleasure, an unexpected moment of new awareness.
No one invited me. I’m a gate-crasher because I believe in you.
I look out across this celebratory sea of caps and gowns and want to honor you.
If I think too deeply about the graduations I have attended, of my daughter and nieces and nephews, of refugees from warring nations I have nurtured and of students I have counseled — if I think of all they have achieved and of the promises they are fulfilling — tears well in my eyes.
Today, I salute your achievements, and with your parents and friends I embrace you and your dreams and promises.
I’ve invited myself because I believe in the power of faith and the intellect of young people like yourselves to counter the madness that we adults have inflicted upon this precious earth.
I’ve invited myself because I have hope in the future — and more than anything these days I need hope.
We need you.
First, reach into your pockets and bags and wrap your fingers around your smartphones — those tools programmed to produce sounds that most adults can’t hear but without which you feel you cannot survive. Now, know that each of those smartphones is telling your government exactly where you are at this moment.
This week we learned the National Security Agency (NSA), our super-secret spy agency, which lately, it seems, has not been very good about keeping our nation’s secrets, has direct access to the servers of America’s most popular tech companies, enabling NSA to gather e-mails, videos and photographs, among other digital communications, according to a report in the Washington Post.
Those of you texting at this moment, those of you writing to grandparents, friends and lovers, or ordering illegal substances to bring to tonight’s graduation party, be careful: If you’re using Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple products — your government, and any hackers that can breech those systems, have access to your words and ideas. “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” one intelligence officer analyst told the Washington Post.
While PRISM, as the program, is known, “cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States,” it has the potential to turn Big Bird into Big Brother in every living room in America.
What most worries me, and what should worry us all, is that what our government is doing is not illegal.
We have given them permission to do what they are doing. Exploiting a climate of fear after being attacked on 9/11 and relying on the overreaching Patriot Act that was adopted by Congress in its wake, the government is acting on authority we have ceded to them.
You need to challenge them. You need to search for truth and then speak truth to power.
It’s true: It’s a dangerous world out there — we need security and we need the best and the brightest to be vigilant in protecting out nation. We need to be as vigilant on the cyber-front as in the Persian Gulf.
But we need to be most vigilant on the homefront. We cannot cease being who we are as a nation: Otherwise, the terrorists and those who wish us harm will have won.
“I don’t care if the government reads what I write — I have nothing to hide,” one friend wrote.
That’s not the point. Most of us have nothing to hide. In fact, many of us might like a little more mystery in our lives — more intrigue and challenges — a bit more living on the edge — and we need to know that we are not being watched as we take risks. By risk-taking, I hasten to add, I am not advocating drinking and driving, riding in cars without using seat-belts, or unsafe sex. That’s just stupid.
I’m talking about following a dream or a passion you believe in — even if there is a safer path.
But as Americans we have our Bill of Rights and a Constitution, inspired documents that are designed to protect us from unreasonable and illegal searches and seizures — and that means about our ideas as well as about our guns.
In this challenging new world of mirrors, illusions and deceptions you cannot be indifferent. If you fail to act you are complicit with those who choose to diminish our rights.
Pay attention now. Commencement speeches are often riddled with quotes to impress listeners with the speaker’s erudition — to make sure you get your money’s worth, My next quote, by the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., is the most important one I am offering you:
“It is just as patriotic to keep your country from dying as it is to die for your country.”
Some of you are going off to college, others will enter the work force immediately, and some of you will enlist in our Armed Forces.
All of you will find ways to serve and protect this nation.
It’s our duty.
The Pentagon Papers, published in The New York Times in 1971, proved, “among other things, that the Lyndon Baines Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress.”
Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst who released the Pentagon Papers said, “I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.”
Also, this week, the trial of Bradley Manning, an Army soldier accused of having illegally passed classified material to WikiLeaks, began — a case being compared to The Pentagon Papers.
“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act,” George Orwell
Bradley Manning also felt that he could no longer cooperate in concealing information from the American public.
Edward Yashinesky, before he was executed by the Communists in Poland, said, “Don’t be afraid of your enemies; the most they can do is kill you. Don’t be afraid of your friends; the most they can do is betray you. Those you should be afraid of are the indifferent: they are neither friends nor foes; they neither kill nor betray. But because of their indifference there are so many killings and betrayals in the world.”
Be neither indifferent nor afraid — be revolutionary.
Hold your smartphones close and your ideals closer.
Have fun. Go forth into this glorious, beautiful world and find, as William Sloane Coffin said, “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”