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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A New Term

2005
I think it's not a bad question to ask yourselves:

"What will be my place in history?"

In other eras, across distant lands, this is a question that could be answered with relative ease and certainty. As a servant of Rome, you knew you would spend your life forced to build somebody else's Empire. As a peasant in 11th Century China, you knew that no matter how hard you worked, the local warlord might take everything you had - and that famine might come knocking on your door any day. As a subject of King George, you knew that your freedom to worship and speak and build your own life would be ultimately limited by the throne.

And then, America happened.

A place where destiny was not a destination, but a journey to be shared and shaped and remade by people who had the gall, the temerity to believe that, against all odds, they could form "a more perfect union" on this new frontier. Brick by brick, rail by rail, calloused hand by calloused hand, people kept dreaming, and building, and working, and marching, and petitioning their government, until they made America a land where the question of our place in history is not answered for us, but by us.

Have we failed at times? Absolutely. Will you occasionally fail when you embark on your own American journey? Surely. But the test is not perfection.

The true test of the American ideal is whether we are able to recognize our failings and then rise together to meet the challenges of our time. Whether we allow ourselves to be shaped by events and history, or whether we act to shape them. Whether chance of birth or circumstance decides life's big winners and losers, or whether we build a community where, at the very least, everyone has a chance to work hard, get ahead, and reach their dreams.

None of this will come easy. Every one of us will have to work more, read more, train more, think more. Our kids will have to turn off the TV sets and put away the video games and start hitting the books.

It won't be easy, but it can be done. It can be our future. We have the talent and the resources and the brainpower. We need a national commitment.

We need you.

Now, no one can force you to meet these challenges. If you want, it will be pretty easy for you to leave here today and not give another thought to the challenges (we) face. There is no community service requirement in the real world; no one's forcing you to care.

You need to take up the challenges that we face as a nation and make them your own, not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although you do have that obligation. Not because you have a debt to all of those who helped you get to where you are, although you do have that debt. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although you do have that obligation. You need to take on the challenge because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential. And if we're willing to share the risks and the rewards this new century offers, it will be a victory for each of you, and for every American.


2008
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.

I promise you, we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem.

But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people.

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As a teacher, I am constantly coming across students who simply refuse to do work.  Basically…if I don’t hold the pencil for them and write the answers for them, it doesn’t get done.  I turn to the parents for help at home, but some parents believe that if it is a school-related issue, it is my job to fix.  These are some of the battles I face…and then deal with people slamming my job performance based on the failures of these students and their parents.

During his entire career in politics, President Obama has stated that this country can be fixed…if we all get our hands dirty and pitch in (excerpts from two different speeches above—the bold font is my stress).  That there’s only so much he can do, that congress can do, alone.  Yet what have we done these last four years?  Sit back and wait for him to fix our problems.  Now we sit here and complain on our computers about how President Obama hasn’t fixed anything.  Most of us aren’t even capable of expressing our own reasons for why we’re angry at him.  We put up posters on Facebook that others have made.  We use political cartoons that others have written.

Has President Obama done the best job these last four years?  No.  Could someone else do his job better?  Maybe.  But during these last four years, what have YOU done to make your life better?  Have you logged off Facebook, climbed off your couch, and actually worked towards a better life?  If doors have been closed, have you built new ones?  Or have you just sat down, grown fatter, and waited for someone else to fix it for you?  The American Dream isn’t something handed to you…you have to fight for it.  The most successful people on the planet work, work, work, work, work.  Does that sound like your life?  If not…can you really blame the government for your problems?  Do you think if you remain on your couch, that it will matter who the president is?

Regardless of who wins this election, change is needed, and that change is in us.  I am sick of the handout generation we’ve become.  If your life isn’t better than it was four years ago, do something about it.  Stop blaming everyone else.  Stop expecting some mythical president to do it for you.  Of course the decisions made by the government affect your life, but not nearly as much as you do.  At some point in time, you must take the control and responsibility of your own life.  Please make that time now.

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