Keynote Speaker Inspires Students to ‘Tend One’

May 25, 2010

‘Co-Creating a World that Works For Everyone’

To the graduating Class of 2010, I say congratulations! You made it! This passage is no small event and we are here as the family and community of Mary Baldwin University to witness and cheer you onward. In short, we are the seeds of your network for change-making ahead.

The world cherishes and awaits you. Today you are launched as one of the most privileged and challenged classes of our century. We live like queens and kings for the most part, with independence, and mobility, and connectivity unlike any generation before.

It is essential, given that privilege, that we see and remember injustices and consider what fuels our passions. For me it was seeing the civil rights workers, a group of African Americans when I was about 12 years old, who were marching peacefully in Birmingham Alabama hosed and then had dogs set upon them. This I found shocking and it has propelled me to action. Know what fuels your passion and is at the root of what drives your commitment to justice.

One of my favorite things to do is to go to grassroots nonprofits and do site visits, to listen deeply to the community and what they say they need. I have gone on about 3,000 of these often weekly over many years now.

A community leader working with gangs asked of me and his peers, as different as we were, recently: “How then can we transform that which we have been given?” It took a while for me to appreciate all that I had been given, and to find purposeful work and to listen and respond to what I was uniquely called to do. Born on third base to a wealthy family committed to service, I was taught as you have been to lead and to shape a changing world, to give back and to step up to the realities of differences around us, while seeking how best to bridge and find common ground.

These are the skills of you, the changemakers.

May you know fully your resourcefulness, the assets you have, and all forms of your capital: creative capital, social capital, financial capital, knowledge capital, and influence capital, your heart capital … and use them well.

For you are charged, as the cover of Time Magazine this month says, of three whistle blowing women of Wall Street, “to clean up the mess.” This, we all find a disturbing deferral of responsibility. For it is all of our charge. My generation, as the generation before us, has made a mess of some things and caused breakthroughs in others, like the technology we share. Least you forget that we do not expect you to shift this future ahead of you alone. We stand shoulder to shoulder with you, intergenerationally committed to figuring out the survival of our species and planet, which hangs now in terrible imbalance.

  • Oil spills endlessly in the Gulf, while corporations and government point fingers, meanwhile our natural resources die.
  • Coal mining and other disasters crumble families’ hopes.
  • Over $700 billion, or twice the level as a decade ago, is spent on by our Defense Department to secure this democracy.
  • And you enter a job environment when recovery feels like a house of cards.

And yet, it is you, the changemakers. I have heard that you are passionate, articulate and sensitive and determined to take on the world. I say women and men graduates take off! And do it well.

In a few minutes you will graduate … I too was launched also at a time of many disturbances in the early 70’s after the deaths of so many leaders we had cherished, I had seen as we hope you have the power of intergenerational mentors. May you not forget how important these partnerships can be.

In 1977 a mentor took me to my first national conference of some 700 women from all fifty states to discuss the national agenda for women’s human rights in Houston.There I heard this passage from a community leader named Jill Ruckelshaus:

We are in for a very, very long haul.
I am asking for everything you have to give.
We will never give up.
You will lose your youth, your sleep,
Your patience, your sense of humor,
And occasionally the understanding and support of people that you love very much.
In return, I have nothing to offer you,
But your pride in being a woman, (or man or gender neutral we might say today)
And all the dreams you ever had for your daughters, and nieces, and granddaughters — your sons, nephews and grandsons,
Your future and the certain knowledge that at the end of your days, you will be able to look back and say that once in your life you gave everything you had for justice.

I left this meeting and dedicated the next 30 years of my life to growing women’s foundations and women’s leadership and money for women and girls and to building social justice philanthropy. It has been just a wonderful path and we’ve raised together millions of dollars and raised consciousness.

This was my rallying call. May you give everything you have for justice.

There are now some 165 women’s foundations worldwide. These small powerful centers of women’s influence await you and welcome you wherever you are likely to land.

In thinking about what you want to change or preserve or do as you find your way, know that we have figured out one noble truth:

Women and supportive men working together hold the keys to true security. Our theory and experience of change shows that when you assure a woman’s security you assure her family’s security. When that family is more secure, their community benefits from their security and is more secure, and when communities are more secure countries are more secure. When nations have economic security the world will be secure.

And so we invest in women to support micro loans, and to help them get and start jobs, and so that water systems are fixed, and childcare cooperative are founded, so the education of young women and men happen. And the world changes.

Remember as you go to invest in women and their families, as they are the peacekeepers and the engines of leverage.

In helping the Global Fund for Women, an astounding organization which raises and gives over $10 million per year to nonprofits in some 175 countries, I travelled with others to eight differently developed countries. What we saw about the condition and violence of women and their families was just awful. I awoke the next day hearing a second rallying call.

A voice, and who knows whether these voices are from within or without … said to me: The only way to counterbalance, exponential greed, violence and destruction is with exponential love, generosity and care.

It repeated in me: The only way to counterbalance, exponential greed, violence and destruction is with exponential love, generosity and care.

And so, you are charged today to go forward with all your resources to a world that may seem more divisive and crazier than ever. But you have tools that assure your success. For you have come from this place.

Part of the education you have received from Mary Baldwin is as to be bold, confident, compassionate moral leaders.

From the Earth Summit moral leaders are described as “building unity while cultivating diversity; and serve on the institutions of society in such a manner that these institutions are actively encouraged to empower the individuals whom they serve, to express their talents in service to humanity.”

It’s a tall order AND so satisfying. But may you be sure you have your mentors, and family and community ahead and know to whom you are accountable. For there are ethical dilemmas’ ahead and your conscience and heart and soul must with others be in dialogue regularly. Foster your inner life and this vital connection to some Higher Power. You will have tough decisions to make and we need ongoing community, nurturance and guidance to keep on the path set here.

You leave this nest today and you will encounter ahead now, remarkable people making a difference. Whether the CNN Hero of the Year who started push cart schools for street kids, or the mother sitting before you in your plane home with the child who is crying endlessly, or the businessperson who might just help you create a breakthrough.

Remember that your greatest satisfaction may be not only from the diligent and persistent reaching for systemic reflection and change, but also along the way, the evidence of your being simply caring and kind. Offer to rock that crying baby or lend a hand to that struggling elder, or youth, around you. Pray for that solider that sacrifices on behalf of our democracy. Teach someone to read and lift while you climb. These are the things that help us and the world around us thrive.

In Rwanda after the genocide in 1994 that killed some 900,000 citizens, the women were placed in charge of the country. There is now in Rwanda the largest percentage of women leaders, 51 percent, to run the country. At the first meeting of the new cabinet the women and men there faced what they thought was the countries most pressing problem: the hundreds of thousands of orphaned children.

And do you know what they did? They started a Campaign called Each One Tend One, asking each household in Rwanda to take a child in to their already struggling families. They could think of no greater step for healing. And so it was. Rwanda now stands as on its recovery.

And what are these lessons? What if each one of us tended one? What if you helped each other find jobs and housing and community? What if we helped you in some amazing network for life offered by Mary Baldwin? What if we committed to tending each other, and then we reached to then the neighbors and alumnae of Mary Baldwin, the community of Staunton and beyond and all the people whose hearts and minds you will touch over your lives?

How then can you transform and tend to that which you have been given? Look around now to this community here. Can you unleash further your generosity? Open wider your hearts? If someone had told me that giving with all our hearts would give back to me the sense of utter abundance, I might not have believed it, but givers know this.

Could we give more to each other? Indeed Mary Baldwin University is a kind of organic garden that keeps on giving but we must fertilize her and commit to continuous care, as she has cared for us.

I have heard that some 96 percent of this student body receives some tuition reduction. This is a remarkable figure for a small school. Wow! And it means that those of you in the audience today and those alumnae/i who have come through Mary Baldwin have stretched to help and give generously so as to help others have the same leg up! May you, this class, pay it forward, remembering that your education has been supported by so many! Let us help the next class and the future ones as well. May we double the number of alumnae/i who give and come back to this place for reunion days and tend to each other for a life time of learning co-creating that future — a future that works for more people, a future that works for all.

May you go forth from this place as the changemakers you are, tending always this place as the place that deepened your world view and grew your call for justice, your leadership, and your love.

Congratulations to the Class of 2010.

This speech was given by Mary Baldwin 2010 Commencement Speaker Tracy Gary, philanthrophist and author of Inspired Philanthropy, on May 23, 2010.