I recently read Carol Browner's, former head of EPA under former President Clinton and former Director of the Office of Energy and Climate Change under President Obama, 2009 commencement speech at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. I particularly liked the following passage:
As you leave this prestigious institution, I would urge you to consider public service. It doesn’t mean that you have to be a teacher or that you have to choose a job in government. It does mean that you have to find a way to roll up your sleeves, reach out, and touch someone else’s life to make your community and this country a little bit better.
This statement is brilliant: Browner implores us to give back to our communities, urges us to enter public service, and explains that public service is not something reserved for government employees. Public service, as Browner so eloquently notes, is anything that "touches someone else’s life to make your community and this country a little bit better."
Whether it is spending time mentoring students, distributing food at a local food bank, donating time, energy, or money to a worthy cause, or just helping an senior citizen carry their groceries, we can all serve our communities and our country.
Browner echoes President Obama's famous words from his speech in Tucson: "in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame - but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others."
Finally, Browner helps us remember that, while the government can be an amazing force for good, in the final analysis, America is an exceptional country because of the infinite small acts of kindness performed by private citizens. In this time of immense hardship, we are reminded that individual Americans can do amazing things and, in the aggregate, America can do amazing things. As President Obama said today: "If we can come together – if we can find common ground – there is no stopping this country."