Editorial: Taking on life’s tasks

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 10, 2011

As another group of high school and college graduates moves on to the next stage of life, here are some words of inspiration and pragmatism to consider, gleaned from a few widely quoted commencement speakers and writers.
House Speaker John Boehner, at the Catholic University of America:
A journalist once asked Mother Teresa how she persevered in the face of all the despair she had seen. Mother Teresa replied, ěGod has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.î Over the years, Iíve carried in my heart a similar code my parents taught me: You do the right thing for the right reasons, and good things will happen.
So there you have it: humility, patience, and faith ó the raw material of hard work and sacrifice. They will take you as far as you want to go.
Actor Denzel Washington, at the University of Pennsylvania:
Iíve found that nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks. Nelson Mandela said: ěThere is no passion to be found playing small ó in settling for a life thatís less than the one youíre capable of living.î Iím sure in your experiences ó in school, in applying to college, in picking your major, in deciding what you want to do with your] life ó people have told you to make sure that you have something to ěfall back on.î But I never understood that concept. If Iím going to fall, I donít want to fall back on anything ó except my faith. I want to fall forward. I figure at least this way Iíll see what Iím going to hit. Fall forward.Defense Secretary Robert Gates, at the University of Oklahoma in Norman:
Each person in public service has his or her own story and motives. But I believe, if you scratch deeply enough, you will find that those who serve ó no matter how outwardly tough or jaded or egotistical ó are, in their heart of hearts, romantics and idealists. And optimists. We actually believe we can make a difference, that we can improve the lives of others …
I am reminded of a letter from Abigail Adams to her son John Quincy Adams. She wrote him: ěThese are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. … Great necessities call out great virtues.î
Less poetically but more practically, John Adams wrote, ěPublic business, my son, must always be done by somebody. It will be done by somebody or another. If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not.î
Journalist David Brooks, in the New York Times:
College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments ó to a spouse, a community and calling ó yet mostly hears about freedom and autonomy. …
Todayís grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But, of course, as they age, theyíll discover that the tasks of a life are at the center. Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and canít be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but itís nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. Itís to lose yourself.