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Sen. Mark R. Warner

The Honorable Mark R. Warner United State Senator from Virginia 2012 Virginia Tech Spring Commencement Blacksburg, Virginia

May 11, 2012 -- 1,190 words ~ 10 minutes

Madame First Lady, President Steger, members of the Board of Visitors, Virginia Tech faculty and staff, parents, friends:

Today, we gather to acknowledge and celebrate the success of over 5,000 college graduates - students who know that orange and maroon always look good together -- the Virginia Tech graduating class of 2012.

I understand Governor McDonnell is also here today, celebrating the graduation of a daughter. Congratulations, Governor and Mrs. McDonnell.

Mrs. Obama, I want to assure you, I ate a healthy breakfast, exercised for an hour before coming up on stage ... and I am ready to take you on in a sack race right after this ceremony .

... Welcome to your first visit to Virginia Tech.

I recall the first time I was here, in this very stadium.

It was a Saturday night football game, and there's nothing quite like it.

The atmosphere -- the band -- the students -- the noise: I was hooked.

It is always good to be back among friends in Blacksburg.

* * *

When President Steger announced in March that I would be one of your commencement speakers today, an engineering student named Miles Goff tweeted this:

"I am honored to have you speak at graduation. I hope it's a good speech - not too awful long, though ... "

Thanks, Miles.

With that in mind, I will follow Winston Churchill's advice to public speakers: 'Be clear, be concise -- and then be seated.'

* * *

On the day that I sat where you are, I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. And I knew that I would be able to do things and go places that my parents only dreamed about.

Today, you share that promise - and you can realize those dreams.

You have been well prepared with a Virginia Tech degree, but that investment brings a responsibility.

Your obligation is to strive - to reach - and to not be afraid to fail.

Remember, you graduate from a university whose first student walked 13 miles simply to enroll.

So you, too, must be brave, and daring and courageous. That is what drives our nation.

This is the unique spirit of America.

I know the challenge can be daunting. For me, some of my most important life lessons have come from moments most people would consider failures:

  • I failed in two businesses before I was 30 years old: my first business failed in six weeks, and the second one went bust after six months.
  • I was sleeping on friend's couches and living out of my car when a friend told me about this new technology - technology that just might lead to an entirely new industry - the cellular telephone.
  • My Harvard Law School classmates who were practicing at big fancy law firms laughed. "Warner, you're crazy," they said. "Who's going to want a telephone in their car? Go get a real job!"

Those friends? Most of them are still practicing law, and billing by the hour.

* * *

Going for it, and being willing to fail, but then picking yourself up and getting right back in the game - that's what is so great about America.

Never forget that.

But remember: along with that responsibility to yourself, you also have an obligation to your community.

You're graduating during an election year, and the political and policy debates already are pretty intense.

I urge you to participate in our nation's debates in a respectful manner, because today we're living in a nation that engages in too much confrontation and too little conversation.

And we wonder why Americans have become cynical, distrustful and alienated from their government?

While we've become better connected, we seem to be even more divided.

You graduates can access more information on your smartphones every day than your grandparents could access in a year - maybe even their entire lifetimes.

Yet in this age of the iPhone and the iPad, we seem to find it harder and harder to look beyond the "I."

Don't misunderstand me: Disagreement and rigorous debate about the big issues of the day and the challenges we face is both healthy and proper.

But we should be able to debate these critical issues without questioning each other's motives or our shared commitment to America's success.

No one in politics - and I mean no one - has a monopoly on virtue, or patriotism, or on the truth.

For America to remain a nation of great destiny, your generation must step forward and embrace the motto of this university -- "That I may serve" -- a motto that many of you already have accepted in your everyday lives:

  • For instance, we know that almost all of the members of the Corp of Cadets who graduate today will enter America's military service. We honor their commitment to our freedom.
  • Let me just add, Mrs. Obama, that all of us applaud your personal commitment to America's military men and women and their families. You and Dr. Biden have set a great example for the nation in encouraging stronger community support for our returning veterans and our military families.

Graduates, your time here at Virginia Tech has been marked with great moments of celebration and awful moments of reality.

In the months that followed that tragic April day in 2007, when some people were asking "Who will go to Virginia Tech now?" -- you raised your hands and said, "I will."

And time and time again, America has watched you -- and each time, we have been impressed.

It is that spirit -- and your example -- that will lead the way forward.

So no matter the distance you travel in the days ahead, remember the lessons you learned on this campus.

"That I may serve:" Always stay true to the Hokie spirit that makes this such a great university.

* * *

And now I come to my final piece of advice, and this might be the most important lesson I leave with you today:

Call your mother.

Because, if you're honest with yourself, you know you did not get here alone.

So call your mother. Call your father. Call your grandparents, girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands and wives.

Seek-out that special person who has encouraged and supported you on this journey, and tell them "thank you."

Don't just text them, or tweet it, or post it on Facebook: call them and tell them.

You should cherish your friends and your family as if your life depends on it -- because it does.

* * *

Graduates, as you reflect today on the past four, five or six years of your life, you no doubt have memories of very special moments you will carry for a lifetime.

But to me, this year provides one vivid Hokie memory in particular:

Danny Coale -- I don't care what the officials said -- you caught that ball!

[I hear Danny Coale now has dreams as big as the state of Texas .. .]

So, Virginia Tech Class of2012, as you prepare to leave this great campus, let me summarize my advice today:

  • First: Don't spend a lot of time worrying about your failures. I've learned a whole lot more from my mistakes than from all of my successes.
  • Second: Always remember that, as a nation, we are at our best when we work together, and when we are honest and respectful of each other.
  • And, finally, there's this: never, ever, forget to call your mother.

Congratulations graduates.

Now, let's go Hokies!