What are you doing for justice? – Six Pillars 2010

Dr. Bergen, Ms. Sabolinski, Mr. Parnell, students, faculty, staff and honored guests:

Thank you for inviting me to this ceremony and for letting me be a part of this special event.  It is truly a privilege to be here to honor the six pillars of character ambassadors.

When I look at the students here on the stage and out in the audience, I see hundreds of faces of people who strive to live up to all of the six pillars:

Trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.

Back in february, I got to thinking about what I would talk about today.  But that mystery was solved when I was on college tours with my daughter.  At one point, I came upon a statute at the entrance to the student center at one of the schools.  It immediately grabbed my attention.

It was a 10-foot tall sculpture of a priest and human rights activist with his hands outstretched. Below his massive image, the inscription read: “What are you doing for justice?”  That monument and question stopped me in my tracks.  It was so direct and chilling.

And as I stood there i thought of what it must be like to confront that question every day.  And for you, I thought of how the six pillars capture the essence of that question.  Now you’re probably sitting there thinking, I’m just a kid, what can i do for justice.  And on top of that, you’re probably wondering just what justice is.

To get a better sense of the question, I borrowed the definition from a plain speaking 9 year old elementary student from Virginia.

She said:  justice is equality. Everyone should be treated the same. No matter how tall you are, how big you are, no matter how old you are, no matter what your name is, no matter who your parents are, no matter what you look like, you should be treated the exact same way as anyone else.

And that’s it in a nutshell!

And it is in that spirit that you should ask yourself daily what you are doing to include others, to treat them as you wish to be treated, and above all else, to be fair.  That’s what the six pillars are all about.

A few weeks ago, I was reading the newspaper, and i came upon this letter addressed to Miss Conduct — you’re wondering who reads that stuff — now you know.  In any event, again it made me think of you.  The letter went like this:

Dear Ms. Conduct:  Dining alone in a cheesecake factory, I was seated next to a middle-aged couple. There was no conversation between us. When i asked for my check, the waitress said, “The couple who were at the next table paid for your meal.” I am still wondering why. I am an 80-year-old man. Were they being kind because I looked old? My attire was not in the least shabby. I was a recipient of charity that I neither needed nor wanted. There’s no way I can track them down to give back their $15. Perhaps they were the “magnificent obsession” types who secretly do good turns expecting rewards to come to them in unexpected ways.  Signed:  a.c. from boston

Miss Conduct wrote back as follows:

Dear a.c.:  No one but people of your generation would speak of a “magnificent obsession” nowadays.  The current term is “pay it forward,” and that’s what these folks were doing:  a generous act that they hope you will repay by doing something nice for someone else.  I dare say they weren’t pitying you as a potentially destitute old man but rather that, since you were alone and they could see what you were eating, they knew that their random act of kindness would only cost a modest $15.  Why don’t you pay them forward by introducing some younger person to magnificent obsession?

As I read that, I thought that I should introduce you to magnificent obsession on behalf of a.c.  It goes like this:

Over the next several days, you do something real good for someone.  If they ask how they can pay it back, tell them they have to pay it forward, and do something good for someone else.  Then more people get helped and it sort of spreads out.  —  before long it gets real big.

And as you go about it, think about what your doing in the context of justice and magnificent obsession.  You won’t be showered with material gifts, but you will no doubt develop a more powerful personality.

The School Committee applauds you for your efforts, congratulates you, and wishes you well in the future.  Today the six pillar society is receiving a talented group of individuals who no doubt will give that organization a strong foundation.  The Franklin community is blessed and we are indeed proud of you.

Congratulations and thank you.

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