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Jacques Roy's Commencement Speech Delivered to the Students of LSUA's Class of 2006

December 14, 2006

Good morning graduates, Dr. Cavanaugh, esteemed faculty, other public officials, and guests and families of our graduates. I am honored to be included in your commencement exercises—an event in my own life which seems not so long ago.

Being a commencement speaker is a lot like being from the IRS. When they stick you in the middle of the room, people have to look and listen, but they do not want to hear much from you.

Being a commencement speaker is a hard task. You are supposed to be slightly irreverent. I know I am supposed to identify with young folks, at least that is what I am told everyday. I need your help to make sure I deliver the right speech, A or B, so how many of you are SOTAS? Oh, maybe that is a faculty term—(SOTAS)(students older than average)(Improvise)

On a more serious note, in this public setting, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the loss of two public servants—indeed two mayors in the last month. How tragic these events are, and how they remind us we truly do not know our last hour, and therefore must commit to engage ourselves in our lives fully—the subject of which much of what I will share is focused.

Your life is yours to make of what you will. This may seem like a platitude, a boring one, even. To some, it may even seem cruel, since you do not yet believe in yourself enough to know your power. I have recently learned what daring to go back to that dreamer time in life means—that childhood state of believing you can make a difference.

I think about a study recently put out about the most efficacious age for someone to enter public life; what do you think that age is, by the way I am 36, was 35 when I ran for office?

Right, but I started thinking about why that was as opposed to the proof of how efficacious leaders who entered political life at that age were.

I believe it is because one is old enough to have lived through some hard knocks, maybe had a family, been married, maybe lost a family member or two, a child, a wife. On the other hand, that person probably still has a belly full of fire to make a difference, like you do now as much as you ever will.

Jon Stewart, whom many of you probably know well, said of your time in life:

...the unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life is that there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and the results uncertain. And it can be maddening to those that go here, especially here, because your strength has always been achievement. So if there's any real advice I can give you it's this.

College is something you complete. Life is something you experience. So don't worry about your grade, or the results or success. Success is defined in myriad ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of decency ….

Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.

I beg you to be engaged, seize life. No, I will not be cliché and say “carpe diem.” Well, I guess I got it in . . .but I will not talk about The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles although I know you have seen them too.

But, I will tell you my own philosophy:

We are measured not merely by how we deal with adversity—or life’s tough hands. Most assuredly, we will get dealt bad cards.

However, what I believe measures you is more based on how you deal with fickle Fortune when she chooses to shine on you.

So, remember, what measures you is your engagement of fortune. Like the opportunity to commence something.

Commencement. Have any of you ever thought about why this is called commencement?

You know of course it means beginning or start. For some it will be the beginning of a long series of partying until you have to get a job . . . or until mom and dad kick you out of the house. You know a bunch of you live at home, still.

But, commencement is a time when a new part of your life begins: your adult life, your life after being exposed to opportunity to craft a worldview for yourself. Do not let people take that from you easily. Guard it; it is yours.

I thank academia for its contribution to our lives—the enrichment, the sacrifice, and even the humor. Dialectic exchange, the arrival at truths by question and answer, the exchange of information—the so-called “Socratic” method—is critical to our lives.

I would like to share a line that exists at the top of one of the greatest memorials in our nation:

I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny imposed upon the mind of man.

Jefferson was talking about freedom; the freedom for all of us to think, but not necessarily act, as we wish.

Remember, your actions must be tempered by respect for others’ rights, but we should express within bounds what we wish.

I encourage you to be critical thinkers, and never forget this time of your life. For, in a very real sense, this will be the freest your mind will ever be. As you get older, you will settle in your ways; you will find yourself more judgmental, and even saying things “your daddy would say.”

Oscar Wilde said, “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing worth knowing can be taught.”

Didacticism, a fancy expression for very formal exchanges of moral, logical teaching, has a place in undergraduate life, but so does community engagement, friendship, partying, the opposite sex, and a host of other instructional items. One must be careful not to let those latter ones fall out of balance.

On the banks of the River, a few weeks ago, I also noted Jefferson for his cautioning of us about acting in an ignorance-is-bliss fashion.

He said, we should guard against those people who shun thinking and the free marketplace of ideas (which is the quintessence of academia, by the way), who never want any change and who dread reformation, and who exert all their faculties to maintain the ascendancy of habit over the duty of improving our reason and obeying its mandates.

Your life is changing. Change is not a bad word; it need not even be scary. Embrace it. Fear of change, in a very real sense, is simply the fear of the unknown. It is our mind perhaps protecting us from the unknown. Throughout history, change at times altered man’s course in negative ways.

But, change can be quite positive. Indeed, it is natural and necessary.

When I campaigned, I made it clear we were not campaigning on a message that Alexandria needed to change by turning away from its past. Instead, we maintained the changes had happened as they inevitably do, and we need to seize on those changes, those positive forces of Fortune, to move forward powerfully; to measure ourselves later by how well we did.

I believe our community reacted strongly to that message.

In a movie with Denzel Washington a few years back, the writers authored a line which struck me as something I had uttered or thought before a hundred times in life. I do not remember the line, but I will give you my rendition of it applied to my life.

There are certain moments in life that eclipse most other moments, and you sort of see them coming. You have a sense that they are on the way even before the moments arrive, and you know that your life will be changed after the moment passes or the thing arises, forever.

I think this may be almost an intuitive vestige of our most primitive self—a warning system within the deepest recesses of the brain. I saw an example of that intuition, that feeling something was coming, come to fruition. I hope you will be careful thinkers, and watch for those moments and seize them.

But, remember, you cannot always overthink matters. There is an old adage that even the wrong decision is better than no decision. Another corollary is that no decision is a decision. While the truth of these statements can be debated, what is certain is that you must be active, make decisions and move.

In this region, we celebrate a renewed spirit; we look to the promise of the blossom of this campus as it inches toward Alexandria with housing opportunities and extensions to its infrastructure and as it finds its full potency as a four-year institution; we look for the promise of young minds committed to staying home, or coming back, to give their best to Alexandria and this region; we look to the first “mass returners” as I have come to call you. I hope you will make the decision to stay here or return after short sojourns in the world to help craft a sustainable community.

While some of you may go to New York City, California, and abroad, remember where your home is, where your degree was conferred, and return, come back to make our community better—to place your mark on our common heritage.

I want to close with reminding you about two critical virtues: integrity and kindness.

I learned much about those two from my predecessor. You should be kind to people because it costs you too much energy not to be.

I should know a little about this, having just been de-anthropomorph-ized into a pig and compared to worse.

Well, my family is from Avoyelles, and I do plan to trade in the black tie inaugural affair for a cochon de lait, so maybe .. . well, that is for another day.

Seriously, integrity is not something you lose and get back from others—dignity, perhaps, but not integrity.

You possess it, or not. It is really cultivating the incorruptibility of your core values and spirit. My predecessor, Mayor Ned Randolph, was a kind person with immense integrity. He will be missed.

Be persons with integrity; think for yourselves. Practice life with heaping amounts of intellectual skepticism.

I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. I hope you do not let anyone around you define you, limit you, belittle you, or hold you back.

Like I have said of this region, I believe you are at a crossroads point in your life. You, like this region, stand at the proverbial crossroads with the awesome responsibility to capitalize on your situation, on your education, on your ability to reach behind you, give back, and pull someone else forward.

There is a new consensus building: one born of changes in law that forced us all to work and study and matriculate together which now makes it so our hearts and minds are being changed.

I am proud to be part of the generation which will reap the harvest of desegregation and its promise of a shared vision for America. It will save our nation and the South, and locally, we can be a powerful example for progressive change.

It is time to get on board, or you may be left behind. Be inclusive; have no intolerance for others except for those who are intolerant, and even then, listen. You might learn something, even if it is simply what not to do—something your teachers will tell you can be the most powerful of lessons.

The Paradoxical Commandments by Dr. Kent M. Keith People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway. The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway. People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway. Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

I wish I was sitting where you are in many ways. Have fun tonight and this weekend and congratulations. Be careful, guys. If you have something to offer to me, to this community, my door is open to you. Good morning, God bless you, and God bless LSUA and our region with the promise we so much deserve. The promise of your return to us to be a part of our bright future.