My husband has been a mentor to a boy for the last 10 years. They met through Orangewood, an organization for youth in foster care. Many in the system never finished school because of hardship in life. But Jack (not his real name) is graduating this year and Ted could not be more thrilled for this young man. I am SO proud of my husband for the work he’s done in making a difference in Jack’s life. What would the world look like if every young person had a positive role model in his/her life? All children deserve to feel confident, secure, and loved. I’m looking forward to attending Jack’s graduation ceremony with Ted next month. 🙂 Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with excerpts from Paul Ryan’s (Speaker of the House) commencement speech from yesterday at Carthage College – enjoy!
To the class of 2016, congratulations. This is a big moment in your life. And no matter how much fun you have tonight, youre bound to remember some of it. If you forget this speech, well, thats no big loss. Ill get over it eventually. Just remember one thing: Remember the people who got you here.
Theres an old saying which I might have made up a few minutes go . . . that marriage is for the couple; the wedding is for the family. Id think of your graduation the same way. It is their achievement as much as it is yours.
When I was your age, I had a plan. 1992. It seems like yesterday, doesn’t it? I thought I had a plan . . . I wanted to be an economistwhich goes to show just how much fun I was in those days. The plan was, work in public finance for a few years. . . . Get some experience. Go to grad school. Get my PhD. Join a think tank. And then Id give policymakers advice. . . . A few years in, everything was going according to plan. I was working in economic policy . . . getting ready for grad school. And then, life intervened. The congressman who represented my home district decided to run for Senate. . . . He asked me to be his campaign manager. That’s just not my thing. I’m a policy guy, not a political guy. When I declined, he said, In that case, you should run for my seat.
I said, Run for your seat? Thats crazy. Im 27 years old.
He asked me, Why not? I told him I was young and no way could I win. It wasn’t my plan. And he said, You know, if I listened to all the people who told me what I could not do, Id never get anything done in my life. What do you care about? What do you believe in?
I told him I believed in the principles of our founding fathers. I loved public policy because I wanted to solve problems. Well, that was all he needed to hear. He told me, Then, run. But I still wasnt convinced. I called my mentor. I lost my father when I was a kid, so I grew up with mentors. One of my best mentors was a guy named Jack Kemp, a former congressman from New York. I asked him, Should I do this?
And he said, Absolutely. You can make such a difference. You’re a Wisconsinite, but you’re a public policy guy. Go do it.
Then I called another mentor of mine, a guy named Bill Bennett. And I asked, Does this pass the laugh test?
And he said, Yes . . . barely. Actually, he was quite encouraging.
Then I called my mom and I told her what I was thinking. She thought I was crazy. She said, . . . really? You would want to do that?
So ultimately, I ran and I won. But soon, I had another plan. Soon, I realized in the House of Representatives, where I wanted to go, where I wanted to carve my space and make my difference. The issues I cared so much about, the issues my employers were telling me they wanted me to work on were the issues in front of the House Ways and Means Committee: the tax code, health care, retirement security, poverty. My goal was to become the chairman of that committee because I thought I could . . . at least make a big difference in these areas that I cared about. So I worked for years to achieve that goal. And finally, last year, in 2015, I became chairman of that committee. But seven months in, the speaker of the House, John Boehner, resigned unexpectedly. The next in line . . . Kevin McCarthy, dropped out of the running. And my colleagues drafted and asked me to run.
I never wanted to be speaker, and I had said so in no uncertain terms many times before. I was a policy guy. I didnt like the idea of spending my time on other things. I live with my family in Janesville. Every weekend I am here with my family. Yesterday was turkey hunting and track meet and then dinner at my mom’s. Today, here in Kenosha with you. I couldn’t give those weekends up. But John told me, if you dont like the job, then change it. Keep your weekends at home. Focus on policy. Make it work. Turn it around. So, I took his advice, and soon I realized: I can do this. I actually liked the job. Now, I feel like the dog that finally caught the car that I wasnt chasing it in the first place.
And you see? We have something in common: At the beginning of your senior year, I also didnt know what Id be doing after graduation.
This job isnt anything I ever expectedor even wanted. And yet Im still doing what I love: public policy. I learned eventually in my journey that public policy was my vocation, public service was where I found fulfillment.Through all the twists and turns, that has been the consistent theme of my life. Now you have to figure out what is yours. It may change as you get older, but the only way you will find out is if you take your work seriously. It is your contribution to our country. Now, when I say this, I’m not saying that your work is what you get paid for. Your work is all of your responsibilities, like your family and your friendships and your community. It is funny but as life gets more complicated, it gets a whole lot simpler as well. Status will matter less, and doing your part will matter more.
So dont worry too much about the plan.
As I was preparing these remarks, I had a mild panic attack that my advice wasnt sufficiently practical. So, for good measure, let me put it in a quick three-part postscript.
First, a lot of people will tell you not to fear failure, but learn from itand that is a great piece of advice. I would also say that you need to forgive it too. You will make mistakes, and so will other people your friends, your coworkers, your family. Dont sweat the small stuff. Take it in stride. It is good life advice. It is also good professional advice. Nobody likes a Debbie Downer. Nobody likes somebody that is lecturing all the time. There are lots of smart, young, talented, hardworking, ambitious people in societyyou among them. Attitude is everything. Have a good attitude. Be an uplifter. Fill the glass, don’t take from the glass.
Second, read as much as humanly possible. John Adams once told his son, You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket. I was always more of a history and economics guy. But the lesson still applies. The greatest asset you have is your mind. But it really is like a muscle. You have to keep it in shape. Don’t forget that.
Third, if youre believer, keep going to church. Dont let that fall by the wayside. I know that might sound a little preachy or even a little cheesy. But you dont have to make a big show of it. Just go. Prayer has sustained me in many difficult moments of my life. I think it will do the same for you.
Because as you get older, you realize that life does actually follow a plan. It just may not be your plan. It is Gods plan. And coming to accept that fundamental factnot begrudgingly but peacefullythat is the essence of faith. You might not be able to make all the changes you wanted. The question is, did you make a difference wherever you could? Did you meet the moment? Did you look yourself in the mirror that morning or that evening and think “Yeah, okay. I am doing this the right way.” Are you endeavoring to be fulfilled and be a good person . . . in all of your works of life?
So if you remember one word from this speech, let it be faith. That should be all the planning you need.
May God bless you and keep you in His care. Congratulations once again. And thank you all very much.