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Hope To It

HAMPDEN-SYDNEY – Commencement speakers, Nicholas Burns told Hampden-Sydney College's Class of 2011, are asked to give advice for the future.

Not a problem.

Burns, professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School, kept it simple. Kept it straight.

One four-letter word.

A single syllable.

“Here's my one word of advice,” he said.

“Hope.”

Each graduate, he said, needs to have hope. “You should be hopeful about your future as you leave here today. I give this advice to you today because I have often been struck by the tone of our current national conversation when so many pundits,” he told graduates, “seem so hopeless rather than hopeful about the state of our great country and its future.”

Noting the “great national and global events” that had occurred during their four years at H-SC, Burns admitted “it is perhaps understandable that you might not feel terribly hopeful about the human condition and the fate of America in a sometimes bitter, violent and often seemingly hopeless world.”

Wars.

Earthquakes.

And tsunamis.

“All of these events gave us pause,” he reflected, “and I haven't even mentioned yet the truly ominous forces that are also part of the history of your four years here and that your generation must somehow face if we are to protect and preserve our way of life on this planet:

“The specter of global climate change.

“The unbelievable cruelty of trafficking of women and children on every continent.

“The pernicious trade of narcotics that puts crack cocaine and heroin on the streets of every city in America.

“The harrowing threat of pandemics and world food shortages.

“The frightening reality that the most vicious terrorist groups might somehow, someday get their hands on the most destructive arms ever produced-chemical, nuclear and biological weaponry,” he told them.

But do not believe those who say the threats may be “so terrible and so terrifying that we may not be able to overcome them.”

Inspiration for a better future, according to Burns, can be drawn from two centuries of American history.

The hope and idealism of Thomas Jefferson in writing that “all people are equal before God.”

The hope of Abraham Lincoln in “freeing the slaves and preserving our union,” he continued.

The hope of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Burns said, and their idealism “in inspiring the creation of the United Nations after the horrors of the Second World War.”

And, said Burns, “the Reverend, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a champion of hope when he wrote a letter from a Birmingham jail calling for a peaceful and non-violent struggle against the hatred and evil of discrimination and segregation in the America of the 1950s and 1960s.”

Moreover, Burns told the graduates to “simply look around at the role models right here with you today-your parents and grandparents…They made America a better country.”

But the job's not done.