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Leaving America Better

More than a few decades have passed since I was in your shoes, but I remember like it was yesterday the nightmare I had the night before my own graduation from Harvard College. In it, my classmates are about to graduate and celebrate the next phases of their lives, when I suddenly realize I have missed my last final exam. Fortunately for me, I awoke to find it was only a dream. My reality was not unlike all of yours today—four years of late-night studying, piles of library books, times with friends, and hours spent on extra-curricular activities and in team practices culminated in a hard-earned diploma, with hopes and dreams to follow.

Much has changed since my years at Harvard and my time as Editorial Chair of the Harvard Crimson. I imagine few of you have ever tried to write a term paper or a newspaper column on a typewriter! That being said, some things—educational excellence and integrity, service to community and country, and good citizenship—stay the same. Commencement is a moment to celebrate some of these unchanging constants.

One thing I have learned about your generation—and from my own children, who are about your age—is that you reject the notion of fitting into some sort of pre-set mold. You are trailblazers and ceiling breakers—an attitude that will serve this nation well. As you are all fully aware, our country faces big challenges and we can all feel reassured knowing that you will take them on with characteristic determination.

But there is one sacred tradition that I ask you to keep. This is a tradition deeply engrained not only in Harvard, but also in the roots of our nation. Americans of all generations have a compact with each other, a uniquely American compact, renewed and reaffirmed since the founding of our country: Each generation leaves a better nation for the one to follow. A better America—not only richer materially, but more just, stronger, richer culturally. It is a bond of shared responsibility.

My parents' generation defeated fascism in Europe and came home to build the Interstate Highway System, launch the space program, and break down racial and religious barriers, leaving a better America. It is what my generation must do for you, and what you must do as well.

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I chose public service for this very reason. And today I believe my generation owes you more—in areas like student loan debt and support for veterans returning from the longest military conflict in our nation’s history. You deserve to raise your families in communities that do not have to worry about gun violence and school safety, or the growing threat of a changing climate with more frequent and severe weather. You deserve an economy that offers you fulfilling job opportunities, and the possibility of a secure retirement—someday long into the future.

My generation still has a lot of work to do to make good on our compact, but I promise you I will never stop working to achieve those goals.  In the meantime, I look forward to watching you—whom I firmly believe to be our next "greatest generation" of American leaders.  With all that you will accomplish for yourselves, I urge you to remember to think also of the generations to come.

Richard Blumenthal ’67, a Crimson Editorial Chair Emeritus, is the senior United States Senator from Connecticut.

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