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Echoing His Father, Mark Shriver Calls for a National Examination of Conscience

Editor’s Note: Mark Shriver, president of Save the Children Action Network and son of the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sargent Shriver, delivered the graduation address for the Johns Hopkins School of Education on May 23, 2017, in Royal Farms Arena.

 

Dr. Hardiman, Dr. Day-Vines, President Yaffe, Ms. Swint, recipients of alumni and School of Education awards, members of the faculty and staff, parents, families and graduates. I am so honored to be here to celebrate the graduation of the Johns Hopkins University School of Education class of 2017.

My dad grew up in Maryland. He lived in Baltimore and rooted for the Orioles as a young kid in the 1920s.

When I was a kid, we used to drive up 95 from Rockville, weave through the back roads of Baltimore, past the Washington Monument and eventually take a right onto 33rd Street, headed to Memorial Stadium. My dad loved the Baltimore Orioles and so did my brothers and sister and my mom.

Every time we took that right onto 33rd Street, Dad would say, “Do you know over there on the left is Johns Hopkins University? It’s one of the best universities in the world!

“Hopkins is fantastic, just a terrific school,” he would say. “We sat in the backseat and rolled our eyes – we all knew about Hopkins, but he made the same comment every time nonetheless! He was so proud of his hometown university!

The Hopkins indoctrination started when I was young and has continued throughout my life. When I lived in Baltimore, I started a juvenile delinquency prevention program called The Choice Program. We worked in Cherry Hill and Patterson Park. The folks at Hopkins were always incredibly helpful to me in that effort. I even passed a kidney stone in the Hopkins hospital emergency room. When I told my dad what happened the next day, he said, “Lucky you! Hopkins is one of the best universities in the world and that hospital is fantastic!”

So I have had Hopkins on the brain since I was a little kid. It really is an honor to be here with you!

But not everything goes as planned...

I would like to think that I was invited today because of my work running The Choice Program for juvenile delinquents or because of my service in the Maryland House of Delegates, where I worked on early childhood education issues as chairman of the Joint Committee on Children, Youth and Families. Or maybe it was because of my work for the last 14 years at Save the Children, running high-quality early childhood education programs across the United States and creating a political advocacy arm, called Save the Children Action Network, to advocate for increased public investments so that all children start kindergarten ready for success.

But I know I am here mostly because of my family and the virtues I learned from them.

I wrote a book on dad. So what do these stories of faith, hope and love have to do with all of us gathered here in Baltimore this morning? You know, being asked to say a few words made me feel like a big shot. Johns Hopkins University – what an honor! But when I sat down and put pen to paper, I struggled.

What can I say to really smart people who have dedicated their lives to helping children do better in school, to helping struggling parents and children? What could I say to those who are ensuring public safety in the most thoughtful, compassionate and effective way possible?

And then I thought of my dad and mom and their commitment to acts of hope and love, be they performed on a worldwide stage or in the quiet of their own home.

As corny as it sounds, I think the work that each of you do every day, and will continue to do tomorrow and the day after that and well into the future – that work is daily acts of hope and love, too!

Helping parents and grandparents and guardians prepare young children for kindergarten – that is hope and love in action; teaching elementary school and high school, being a guidance counselor to struggling kids, being a merciful and compassionate principal and administrator, making sure that our public safety officials are empathetic and effective – those are acts of hope and love!

What about the people recognized today? What a collection of talent performing daily acts of hope and love!

Wendy Osefo – educator, leader and entrepreneur in the District of Columbia and Baltimore, advocating for race and social equality to benefit under represented student groups nationally. That is hope and love in action!

Chief Hyatt has served the citizens of Baltimore for more than 19 years! She is working collaboratively with law enforcement officers from all around the world – hope and love in action!

I could go on and on about the others but I hope I have made my point!

Hope and love may seem trite, they may seem easy too soft or squishy. Some will say that I am wrong, that society doesn’t really value your contributions – “Look how much you are paid,” they say. “That’s what’s important!”

But the naysayers and critics, those who look out only for themselves and only at the bottom line, are absolutely wrong!

Look, times are tough. There is chaos and confusion all over the world, including right here in United States. The economy is fragile. And as a country, we have not invested enough in our teachers and children and public safety officers.

These are challenging times indeed, but I want to leave you with a few words that my dad spoke in 1967, another tumultuous time:

“We need to make a national examination of conscience. Why do we need a national examination of conscience?? Because suddenly we Americans seem to be panicking. It’s time to stop moaning and wringing our hands. It’s true; the country is in a crisis. But we have always been in a crisis. We ought to thank God we are. Because then we always have something to test us – like a piece of steel that stays strong precisely it is enduring great pressure.”

I am so proud to be in a place filled with people who have endured great pressure – who have sought it out, actually – because they want to make the world a better place for everyone.

I am honored to be with a group of people who have struggled to help kids and their families, who have struggled to make us all safer.

I am proud to be in a room of good women and good men who have committed their lives to daily acts of hope and love. I am honored to be surrounded by such goodness, by people who remind me of my mom and dad – people who try every day to heal the world, people who know how tough the going can be, but who persevere nonetheless; people who have faith in the power of hope and love.

What an honor, what a blessing, it is to be with you this morning. Thank you, and congratulations!