This week my daughter graduates from UC Berkeley with a Master’s in Social Work. I couldn’t be prouder of her.
I want to say to her and to all those students graduating across the country: Congratulations! You’ve worked hard and achieved an important milestone. Your family and friends are very proud of you. I hope you are feeling immense gratification and delight in what you’ve accomplished. Pause for a moment to take it all in.
This is a time for reflection on how far you’ve come, as well as exploring what’s next. With the completion of your education, you are about to make your way in the world. This can be both difficult and exciting. Starting a career. Finding the right job. Deciding where to live. So much to consider.
Like everyone else, you will not be making these decisions in a vacuum. We live in extremely challenging times. In making your choices, you may have to take into account issues previous graduates have not had to consider: the state of the pandemic, major inflation and the rising cost of housing, climate change, the challenge to reproductive rights and more.
But there is one additional thing I urge you to think deeply about, and that is, the future of your country. Decades before you were born, a young, newly elected president, John F. Kennedy, in his 1961 inaugural address challenged all Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
Now more than ever, your country needs you. Your country has given you the opportunity to obtain a good education among many other advantages. And you alone will decide how to use them in your life.
At the same time, there is a very dark cloud hanging over our nation. It threatens all of us who believe in American democracy. That murky shadow is autocracy, and it imperils the freedoms and justice so many Americans have fought and died for.
Today we are seeing how destructive authoritarianism can be in Putin’s war on Ukraine. Here at home, we are experiencing this autocratic scourge from book-banning campaigns to laws restricting voting rights and eliminating reproductive rights. Most devastating was the January 6th attack on our Capitol in an effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and the peaceful transfer of power. This coup was an affront to the most basic principles our nation founded on.
Though it was not of your making, you are now on the frontlines of an epic battle to save our democracy. Whatever you are planning to do as you begin your careers may very well be disrupted or even wiped out by an authoritarian, white supremacist government that could be in our country’s future.
That is why this November’s elections, and the 2024 election are so vital to the survival of our democracy. I urge you all to step up and get actively involved in them. Now is the time to take a stand. You, who are the future of our country, hold the nation’s fate in your hands.
Bruce Berlin, J.D.
(P.S. Since I will be at my daughter’s graduation, I won’t be publishing a blog next week, but will be back the following week.)
A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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