Barack spoke for Senator Ted Kennedy at the commencement address at Wesleyan University.
He encouraged graduates to follow the example of the Kennedy family and work towards a more just society.
I was born the year that his brother John called a generation of Americans to ask their country what they could do. And I came of age at a time when they did it. They were the Peace Corps volunteers who won a generation of goodwill toward America at a time when America’s ideals were challenged. They were the teenagers and college students, not much older than you, who watched the Civil Rights Movement unfold on their television sets; who saw the dogs and the fire hoses and the footage of marchers beaten within an inch or their lives; who knew it was probably smarter and safer to stay at home, but still decided to take those Freedom Rides down south – who still decided to march. And because they did, they changed the world.
I bring this up because today, you are about to enter a world that makes it easy to get caught up in the notion that there are actually two different stories at work in our lives.
The first is the story of our everyday cares and concerns – the responsibilities we have to our jobs and our families – the bustle and busyness of what happens in our own life. And the second is the story of what happens in the life of our country – of what happens in the wider world. It’s the story you see when you catch a glimpse of the day’s headlines or turn on the news at night – a story of big challenges like war and recession; hunger and climate change; injustice and inequality. It’s a story that can sometimes seem distant and separate from our own – a destiny to be shaped by forces beyond our control.
And yet, the history of this nation tells us this isn’t so. It tells us that we are a people whose destiny has never been written for us, but by us – by generations of men and women, young and old, who have always believed that their story and the American story are not separate, but shared. And for more than two centuries, they have served this country in ways that have forever enriched both.
I say this to you as someone who couldn’t be standing here today if not for the service of others, and wouldn’t be standing here today if not for the purpose that service gave my own life.
Read the full text of the speech here