For graduates, wise words then and now

“It certainly isn’t nice of me to come barging into

the pleasant Seventh Heaven in which you recently graduated 48 seniors of Bainbridge High School now are ensconced.

The world is yours. They’ve just handed it to you. All you’ve got to do is keep your nose clean, stay out of trouble, don’t get in any rows, don’t argue, accept the world as you find it, avoid new ideas, be wary of change, do what the people in authority say, don’t do any thinking for yourself...

And if you do, young ladies and gentlemen, you undoubtedly will have a very calm, orderly, dull and uneventful life.

That is, you will until that day comes when some officer in shining black boots stomps into your home and starts telling you what to do from now on.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I hope you’ll always remember your manners. Nobody ever looks in style stalking around with one or more chips on his shoulder. Pugilism, either physical or oral, is strictly for the goons.

I’m not advocating that you become loudmouths or blowhards or bellyachers.

What I do fervently hope for you, though, is that you be not afraid or unwilling to join in controversy. Please, I beg of you, think and speak for yourselves.

Be not ashamed of controversy. This very nation of ours was founded in controversy. It was born in controversy. Its founding fathers wrote controversy into the Constitution when they separated the executive, the judicial and the legislative branches. It has grown in controversy. It has won its greatness through controversy....the very controversy of the Civil War, the controversy between labor and capital, the controversy between Democrat and Republican.

There is a printed card on my bedroom mirror. I have to look at it every day. It reads:

“You can avoid criticism by being nothing, doing nothing and saying nothing.”

Who wants to avoid criticism that way? Not the 48 graduated seniors of the Class of 1953 at Bainbridge High School, I hope!

Of course, I also have another card on that same mirror. It reads:

“Why be difficult, when with a little more effort you can be impossible.”

Somewhere, in between the message of those two cards, lies the very hope for the free world.

Never forget, young ladies and gentlemen, that your nation has a Bill of Rights. Just because some stuffed shirt with an office in Washington, D.C., says something is so, it isn’t necessarily true. You, as a free American citizen, don’t have to knuckle down to anyone. You’ve got a free press – and the right to tell off the editor any day or night. You’ve got freedom of religion – and the right to select no church or any church. You’ve got the right to work – or not. You’ve got the right to be a millionaire – or a bum.

And you’ve got the right to think and speak for yourself!

For your sake, for your children’s sake, for America’s sake, for the sake of a free, peace-loving world, use forevermore that right to THINK and SPEAK for yourself.

Of all the gifts and privileges they gave you graduation night, that right of thought and speech is the greatest.”

– Walt Woodward, “Reviewing the News,”

the Bainbridge Island Review, June 4, 1953

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