I have often wished that Jefferson had not used that phrase “the pursuit of happiness” as the third right — although I understand in the first draft it was “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” Of course, I would have been one of those properties one had the right to pursue, so I suppose happiness is an ethical improvement over a life devoted to the acquisition of land, acquisition of resources, acquisition of slaves.
Still, I would rather he had written “life, liberty and the pursuit of meaningfulness” or “integrity” or “truth.” I know that happiness has been the real, if covert, goal of your labors here. I know that it informs your choice of companions, the profession you will enter. But I urge you, please don’t settle for happiness. It’s not good enough.
Personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to social justice, that’s more than a barren life; it is a trivial one. It’s looking good instead of doing good.” —Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize-winning novelist in her Commencement Address to Rutgers University.
Your parents, proudly here today, and their parents before them, perhaps proudly here today, understood a simple equation for success: your children would do better than you had. Ditch digger to cop to lawyer to judge.
We’re now supposed to apologize to you because it seems that that’s no longer how it works, that you won’t inherit the S.U.V., which was way too big, or the McMansion that was way too big, or the corner office that was way too big.
But I suggest that this is a moment to consider what ”doing better” really means. If you are part of the first generation of Americans who genuinely see race and ethnicity as attributes, not stereotypes, will you not have done better than we did? If you are part of the first generation of Americans with a clear understanding that gay men and lesbians are entitled to be full citizens of this country with all its rights, will you not have done better than we did? If you are part of the first generation of Americans who assume women merit full equality instead of grudging acceptance, will you not have done better than we did?” —Anna Quindlen, writer and Barnard alumna, giving the Commencement Address at Grinnell College