- Posted December 28, 2012 by
Vero Beach, Florida
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The George H.W. Bush years: Your take
George H.W. Bush’s Words at Commencement Still Relevant
- Jareen, CNN iReport producer
World Stage to Michigan Oil Fields:
George H.W. Bush’s Words at College Commencement Still Ring True Today
I will never forget the fall of 1983. On a hot Indian summer day, my father drove me to attend Albion College in Michigan. Every important possession I owned was packed into his prized Oldsmobile station wagon. I had never lived outside of our suburban Dayton, Ohio home. Filled with fear, I believed I was on a journey of self-discovery.
As we crossed the Michigan state line - I noticed something very foreign. Fields were full of bobbing steel pumps. Like Trojan horses, their heads swung up and down. It was as if they were anticipating the sweet treat of tender grasses. Unlike Greek mythology, they were not wooden, yet you guessed they were up to something.
My Dad observed my interest. At 18 years of age - I was seldom quite. In his typical engineer voice he noted, “oil fields.” “Oil fields?,” I replied with great question. I retorted, “Dad, we’re not in Texas!” Patiently, in his typical General Motors Institute manner, he recounted the history of the great oil boom of 1957. “Yes,” I thought to myself, “My Dad is a walking book of useless information!”
It would be four years later that my Michigan oil history lesson would eclipse into something special. Who would have imagined that a native of the “Oil Capital of the USA” would deliver a special message at my college commencement? I could never have anticipated that the future 41st President of the United States would speak to me on May 9, 1987!
I will never forget the day I learned that George H.W. Bush, then the Vice President of the United States, was going address my graduating class. My boyfriend at the time was a master at practical jokes. I was always pretty gullible and I kept waiting for a “punch line.” Yet, it never came, we were all excited about the honor of hosting country’s “second in command” at our small campus.
The truth was that an Albion Trustee, Robert Teeter, ‘61, was instrumental in arranging the appearance at our college commencement. I never knew the man but to this day I feel grateful for his hand in orchestrating one of the most memorable moments of my life.
Vice President Bush’s speech captured international attention that day. Bush was accompanied to our campus by national correspondents from the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, ABC, and NBC. Not since 1977, when former President Gerald R. Ford, came to campus, had our college had such world-wide media attention.
Under the scrutiny of tight security, 3,500 parents and family members witnessed our commencement ceremony of 320 seniors.
I must confess that when I attended my 25th college reunion this fall, we all talked of this great day. I was bothered by the fact that I could not recall Bush’s specific words. My classmates also echoed the same reflection. However, we all unwittingly shared what Bush had imparted. We talked about the values that our parents had given us. We shared "teachable moments" spent with our children. And, last but not least, we acknowledged that despite the many years, we were all connected to an institution that had served us well.
When I arrived home, I dug through my “history box.” It’s the place where I keep all of the important keepsakes of my life. It is truly a miracle that the cardboard structure has survived hurricanes and floods. It holds my first writer’s journal from the first grade to my most prized essays from college. I guess I could chalk it up to being the daughter and granddaughter of teachers. However, my husband will just tell you that I am a packrat!
Anyways, like a crazed idiot, I obsessed about what were those exact words of George H.W. Bush. Why could I not recall them like a special poem or prayer?
As I ripped through “the box” I almost wept when I found the reprint of his speech. And then as I read the words, I realized, his message had never been very far from me all along:
“You often hear that you can’t teach values. I don’t buy it. I know those of you associated with Albion don’t buy it either. And you have ethics programs and even the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Public Service to prove you don’t buy it.”
“Americans are in fairly general agreement as to what constitutes good character and ethical behavior. It includes such qualities as decency, fairness, honesty, duty, tolerance, courage, self-discipline, and respect for the law."
The notes included a story of his ending remarks. He shared the following story to impart his hope for me and the other graduates. I wept as I read it. As it conveyed how optimism and faith are essential. Through every challenge I have faced from my mother dying in my home - to raising a child with physical and development delays – those two elements have been my strongholds.
“(At the funeral of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev,) things were run in military precession; a coldness and hollowness pervaded the ceremony – marching soldiers, steel helmets, Marxist rhetoric, but no prayers, no comforting hymns, no mention of God. “
“The Soviet leaders took their places on the Kremlin Wall as the Brezhnev family silently escorted the casket around to its final resting place. I happened to be in just the right spot to see Mrs. Brezhnev. She walked up, and took one last look at her husband and there – in the cold, grey center of that totalitarian state – she traced the sign of the cross over her husband’s chest.”
“I was stunned. In that simple act, God had broken through the core of the communist system. And it became clear to me – decades, even centuries, of harsh, secular rule can never destroy the intuitive faith that is in us all. And in that I find faith for the future.”
And there I sat on the floor of my laundry room floor, weeping and giving thanks for those profound words. Perhaps I had not recalled them all by memory. But somewhere buried deep in my heart, they were there with me, influencing the life I was leading through faith and optimism.
Thank you George H. W. Bush for having such a positive impact on my life!