Excerpt from Constantine W. Curris’ Commencement Address Dec. 12, 2015
“ … Commencement by definition denotes the beginning, and for each of you it is the beginning of your journey beyond college days. In ten minutes or less (and I know several of you are looking at your watches and will time me), I want to talk about three things: 1) that which you cannot change; 2) that which you must change; and 3) that which you should keep from being changed.
First, what can you not change? The answer: The fact that you are an alumna or alumnus of this university. That is perpetual. There are many things in life’s journey you can change: If you do not like your work, you can change jobs or begin a new career; if you do not like where you live, you can move; if you do not like your car or truck, you can trade it in for another vehicle. And I hope not, but if your marriage does not work out, you can change that, too. But you cannot change the fact that you are a graduate of Murray State University. Its reputation in the years ahead will reflect on you and on every other graduate. If MSU continues to grow in quality and stature, that recognition will augur to your benefit. On the other hand, if it slips in quality and is seen by the public as a lesser or mediocre institution, people will wonder why you attended such a poor school. To say, “It was a good university back when … ” will not be very convincing.
In short, you have a vital, personal interest to support your alma mater, to nourish it through gifts and recommendations and to help it grow in quality and prominence.
Now, my second point: what should you, what must you change. Everyone needs to fulfill his or her responsibilities as a citizen in this democracy and that includes participating in local, state and national elections. In last month’s statewide elections in Kentucky, only 30 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. 7/10 Kentuckians chose not to exercise their constitutional right to select their representatives.
One year ago, nationwide, only 36 percent of eligible voters went to the polls to elect their senators and representatives. That was the lowest turnout in Congressional election in 70 years. Even more disturbing is the pathetic turnout of voting age citizens under the age of 30. In national elections, as a general rule, only 20-30 percent of voters your age go to the polls – that is the lowest turnout of any age group, and makes you the least influential voting bloc.
Let me bring this home. Last year, the average graduate of a public university walked across the stage with over $28,000 in educational debt. When I graduated from college, hardly anyone had any debt. What happened?
In the intervening years, in state after state, appropriations for higher education remained stable or declined, resulting in tuition being increased beyond inflation. In Washington, Pell grants and other scholarship funding were reduced and in their place, Congress expanded loan programs, with the result that student borrowing became the primary way students paid for their college education – and student debt has increased every year since. Students are the big losers.
For your good and for the good of the country this has to change! And you can make change happen. Register and vote – and persuade your neighbors to do likewise. The fundamental lesson of Political Science 101 is that even if your preferred candidate loses, when you vote, you win!
Third, there are some things that must be safeguarded. Specifically, we cannot allow others to take away or attenuate the fundamental rights embodied in the Bill of Rights, especially the freedoms of free speech and religious liberty. These freedoms are in some jeopardy largely because religious extremism at home and abroad threatens our peace and security.
These are difficult times. Issues of national security and personal safety dominate conversations, and current and would be world and national leaders are proposing restrictions that would fundamentally impact our liberties. I am realistic in that we expect our leaders to keep the country safe. But all such proposals should be carefully considered.
It is not either/or. We can have both our civil liberties and national security.”
Thus, I conclude what you would probably describe as “The Final Lecture” before graduation., – one that focused on three thoughts as you commence your personal journey – what you cannot change, what you should change, and what you should resist being changed.