Speeches By EPA Administrator
Administrator Johnson, Taylor University Commencement, Upland, Indiana05/20/2006
President Habecker, board of trustees, members of the faculty and staff, distinguished guests, parents, family, friends and most important, the Class of 2006 – congratulations.
For most of you this day has been two decades in the making. You’ve spent countless hours in libraries, classrooms and labs. You’ve seen success and if you’re like me, you’ve broken a beaker or two. You’ve made some great memories. And today, as you graduate from this prestigious university, you can look back on those life-changing experiences and hard work, and say, “After all that, now I have to get a job?”
I want to thank all the moms, dads, family and friends here for the sacrifice and love you’ve shown over the years. Some of you have traveled long distances to be with your children one last time to celebrate in their achievement. Others of you have come to pick up a roommate you thought you had gotten rid of 4 years ago.
As I traveled here yesterday to my alma mater, my mind wandered back to my first visit to beautiful Taylor University. Unlike most people who spend the summer before their senior year of high school traveling from college to college, deciding where to apply – my first trip to Upland was the day my Mom and Dad dropped me off at school. I knew Taylor by its Christian college reputation, and that it had a great pre-med program, and that was good enough for me.
Before I left for school, my father – who I’m pleased to have with me today – overheard me telling a friend that I was leaving Washington, D.C. and coming to Upland, Indiana to “paint the town red.” Well, during that first-ever visit to Taylor, with our family car filled with everything I needed to start my new life, we drove through the corn and soybean countryside and finally came upon the sign that said, “Welcome to Upland.” Passing the one bank, the one gas station, and the one ice cream shop that made up “downtown, Upland,” my father looked over at me and calmly said, “Well son, I guess it will take just one pint of red paint.”
But as soon as I saw the school, I fell in love with Taylor … and it continues to be a significant part of my life.
Today, I’m not here to talk about my past. I’m here to talk about the future – your future.
I appreciate the opportunity to be here on this stage. It wasn’t all that long ago I was sitting out there in one of those hard chairs, listening to some gray-haired man tell me that I too could succeed in life with a little luck, hard work and perseverance.
Well instead, as this year’s gray haired man behind the podium, I’d simply like to remind you to do the things you already know.
Looking out at the Class of 2006 on your graduation day, I see excitement, hope, accomplishment, and maybe a little unease about what the future holds for you. In a few minutes, you will officially be members of the “real world” – one that has infinite potential, both good and bad. My hope is that you realize the significance of your achievement, and the responsibility that comes along with it. Because today, and for the rest of your life, the future of our world is in your hands.
The world is a big responsibility, but don’t let it intimidate you. Accept this challenge because right now, the world is sending out an S.O.S., calling on you to do your part to “save our ship.” The world is in need of bright, hard working people with strong values who are ready to meet today’s challenges nose to nose.
Every generation hears its own S.O.S. For my father’s generation, the world placed an S.O.S. in response to the horrors of fascist tyrants bent on world domination and the eradication of entire peoples. My generation heard an S.O.S. to counter an evil empire that forced its will on East Asia and subjected its own citizens through fear and violence. Today, the Class of 2006 is being asked to heed the S.O.S. to advance the spirit of compassion in your communities, in your nation, and throughout the world.
Thankfully for all of us here on stage, in the parents section, and throughout the faculty and administration of Taylor University, we know the Class of 2006 is ably prepared to answer the world’s call for compassion.
Responding to the world’s S.O.S. requires you to involve yourself where you will make a difference: where people are in need; where discoveries are waiting to be unearthed; or where nations yearn for freedom. It’s a difference between serving your own wishes, and serving something bigger than yourself.
Some of you will be called into service in the emerging science and technology fields, some into the science of law, some into academia, and still more into business. You may become an expert in energy efficiency innovation, like cellulosic biomass technologies. Or you may become a Nobel Prize winning novelist.
Our nation is anchored in the old-fashioned values under God of truth, liberty and compassion. Taylor University didn’t introduce these virtues into the Class of 2006. You came here with these values and the willingness to serve. Taylor merely gave you the tools to better make a difference.
You see, Taylor armed this eager army of compassion with knowledge and logic, skills in solving challenges, and the strength of virtue. You have been armed to serve, and now the amount of good you will do in this world is up to you. The Marines say that the most dangerous weapon in the world is a Marine armed with a rifle. I say that the most constructive force in the world is a Taylor graduate with a spirit of service.
Wherever you end up, the world will challenge you to serve and make a difference, just like the people here at Taylor have made a difference in you. There are several people here today who have made a difference in my life – Dr. Tim Burkholder is one of them. He has been a biology professor here for three-and-a-half decades. While I consider Dr. Burkholder a great mentor and friend, I can’t help but think back to when he taught my senior biology practicum. I don’t know if he remembers this, but at the end of that semester, I was a bit displeased when he gave me a ‘B-plus.’ Umm, Dr. Burkholder, is this the time for me to talk to you about my grade?
Even though it seems like yesterday to me, I’m sure that Dr. Burkholder would agree that a lot has changed in 35 years. As my wife recently reminded me after a speech I gave at EPA’s 35th anniversary celebration – thirty five years ago, I was a skinny, 6-foot-3, 135-pound 19 year old.
When I began at EPA, we used typewriters, and blackberries were just something you ate. Now computers sit on every desk, and we shoot messages around the world from the gadgets strapped to our belts.
Yet in this ever-changing world, it’s good to know that we can rely on the steady ballast of Taylor University. Decades after I sat here for my commencement ceremony, Taylor students and alumni continue to achieve excellence in their fields of study while embracing the spirit of compassion. Taylor students are answering the world’s S.O.S. with an S.O.S. of their own – a spirit of service.
As a symbol of your call to serve, today you will be given a servant’s towel. Over the past 33 years, I’ve had the privilege of spending nearly all of my professional life in service to the American people as I worked to protect the quality of their air, water and land.
Last year, I received the ultimate honor to be personally sworn into office by the President of the United States. I don’t care who you are, or what your party affiliation is, when the Leader of the Free World presides over your oath of office so you can lead the Agency you worked for, for the past 25 years, your reaction would be the same as mine was: wow!
Before the ceremony, my family and I met the President in my office and I had the opportunity to give him a Taylor servant’s towel. I explained to him that the towel was a symbol of Taylor’s spirit of service – the S.O.S. that we abide by while here at Taylor, and that we are called to engage in throughout the rest of our lives. The President thanked me for the towel and told me that he takes the spirit of service seriously – for himself and for all Americans.
The world is currently in a time of change. The President believes the character of America will ultimately be determined by the willingness of the next generation of leaders to serve a cause larger than themselves.
Building on the countless acts of sacrifice and generosity that followed the attack on America on September 11, 2001, President Bush created USA Freedom Corps to encourage Americans embrace their spirit of service. You see, just like the students who enter Taylor University to equip themselves with the tools to better serve, the American people have an inherent spirit of compassion. Like you, they just needed the tools to better serve. The United States is a nation of communities – and when we see our neighbors in need, we heed that call – as we did after 9-11 and in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Last year, more than 65.4 million Americans, including many Taylor students here today, joined together to volunteer of themselves – an increase of nearly 6 million Americans since the President issued his Call to Service.
Your senior class verse, Hebrews 11:40, embodies this call of service. It says we must all work together in order to fulfill God’s plan. Working alone, we can only go so far. We all must collaborate to accomplish the path set out for us.
I see this everyday in environmental protection. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but our world is a big place, and protecting the welfare of its environment can’t be done by solely one person, or even by one government agency. At EPA, we have around 18,000 dedicated employees, who work everyday to pass down a healthier, safer environment to the next generation. And even with all this focused energy, we cannot meet our goals of cleaner air, water and land without the assistance of local communities, businesses and individuals … and that’s just on the national level.
As our science expands, so does our understanding that pollution knows no political boundaries. Smokestacks across the world contribute to the deposition of pollutants in America’s lakes and rivers, and vice-versa. During this past month, I had the honor of traveling to China, Belgium and France to meet with government leaders to help move our nations toward a cleaner, healthier, more productive future. Americans understand that environmental responsibility is everyone’s responsibility – a responsibility that doesn’t stop at our borders. Collaboration is not just necessary – it is the only way. By working together with our international friends, EPA is leading the way toward a healthier environment for our own nation and our global neighbors.
I’m pleased the members of the Class of 2006 understand that working in collaboration makes you a leader. As you graduate and enter your respective fields and professions, you will be a leader because you know: to lead is to serve. You know that no matter where you go, the spirit of compassion that led you to Taylor University, continues calling you to service.
With your diploma in one hand, and your servant’s towel in the other, you are armed with knowledge and the spirit to answer the world’s S.O.S.
As you know, mistakes and mishaps may occur on your way. When I was a student here at Taylor, my wife – my girlfriend at the time – needed to use my car. Now, this was not just any car. This was my prize possession, my 1969 Pontiac Firebird. She went to start it, and it wouldn’t. Since I wasn’t around, she called my friend John for a jump. He came over, put the cables on the battery and revved and revved his engine – but my Firebird wouldn’t start. Well, turns out the wires were crossed and the surge turned my car’s engine into a melted mess. Thankfully, John has given up his automotive ambitions and instead became a successful biology professor here at Taylor. I hear Dr. John Moore is a great professor, just ask him to align your ecosystems, not align your tires.
Looking forward, you will make mistakes. But by working with others in your service, you will succeed and grow with each new challenge.
As you serve, you will form new and lasting relationships – just like the friendships you made here at Taylor. When my parents and I drove to Upland, I didn’t know a single person. But through years of classes, intramural sports, and late night hang-outs, I formed such significant bonds with my classmates that made it hard to move away from them on graduation day. Even more than that, I fell in love with this place … in more ways than one; I met my wife here, and our relationship with Taylor has been life long: our three kids graduated from here, my daughter married a Taylor alumnus, and our best friends remain the ones we made at Taylor.
And I’m sure you feel that same way about the relationships you’ve made here. Sitting around you are some of the best friends you will ever have in your life. You’ve gotten used to seeing them every day – able to walk down the hall or down the street, to talk to them whenever you want. It will be hard to be without them in your daily lives. I know you are already feeling this loss of several members of your classmates, including two from the Class of 2006. I hope that you carry on their memories and touch others’ lives as they touched yours.
Your friends are important – they make up who you are. I urge you to stay in touch with your friends you made here. These past four years, they’ve been with you through happiness and through heartache. Let them continue to share in your successes on the next leg of your life’s journey.
Taylor has prepared you well for your life. It has sharpened your minds, it has solidified your friendships, and it has fortified your character with the tools to better serve.
As you go about your great work, remember that you're not only Taylor grads, but ambassadors from this school of excellence, representatives of your families, and servants of our heavenly Father. Your work may take you far from here, and for many people you will be the only Taylor graduate – or the only American – they will ever meet.
America is a nation of limitless possibilities. Now as you enter the ranks of our country’s leaders, your infinite potential includes solemn responsibilities.
In his letter of congratulations to the Class of 2006 that I brought with me today, President Bush wrote, “Your experience at Taylor University has prepared you to shape the future of our country. As you take your place in society, I encourage you to become active and involved citizens. Each of you has gifts to share, and our Nation needs your energy, compassion, and leadership. By serving a higher calling, you will make your own life richer and build a more hopeful future for us all.”
So now, I urge you to meet the President’s challenge – answer the S.O.S and paint the world red in a spirit of service.
Congratulations. God bless each of you, God bless the Taylor community, and God bless the United States of America.