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'Good Luck Out There, Kids! You Will Need It!'

May 31, 2000

As college students don their caps and gowns in a ritual to signal their transition into the "real world," commencement speakers try to offer up a few pearls of wisdom. Some deliver an unabashed pep talk; others vainly attempt to peer into the future. A few talk about personal experiences and try to divine a life's lesson. Most try to persuade students to cling to their youthful dreams while they get whiplashed by life's hard realities. Here are a few excerpts.

Isabella W. Cannon, former mayor of Raleigh, N.C. Elon College, May 20, 2000

A commencement by its very name is the celebration of a beginning. Today's excitement and the thrill of the world of possibility before you bring me to my first point.

Be ready for surprises. You may think you have your future planned; so did I. I expected to be a teacher and a Southern housewife. My first surprise came when my husband had the unexpected opportunity to go overseas, which would change our lives.

Later, when I was deeply involved politically in Raleigh, I was surprised when a group approached me about running for mayor. I immediately said yes. In both instances a door opened unexpectedly and I went through it.

And so I urge you, take risks, believe in yourselves. If you do, I can promise you that your life will never be dull.

Second, wherever in the world life takes you, I hope you will be involved in your community, whether it is in California or Calcutta. Hubert Humphrey, another hero of mine, once said the greatest geniuses of world leadership are born and raised in neighborhoods. I learned by understanding and working on my neighborhood concerns that one person can make a difference. I learned how to serve locally and nationally, whether it is zoning or clean water or school bonds.

Third, I urge you to find the core within you that is the best of you. Cherish and preserve it; draw strength from it, and stay true to it. The facts you have learned at Elon College are not as important as the attitudes, values and the approach to life you take from here.

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