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As Prepared for Administrator Johnson, Appalachian State University Commencement Address, Boone, North Carolina

Thank you. I want to tell you what an honor it is for me to join this celebration.

Chancellor Peacock, Provost Aeschleman, representatives of the Board of Trustees and of the University of North Carolina, devoted faculty and staff, parents, family and friends and most importantly, the ASU Class of 2007 – congratulations.

As the speakers before me have mentioned, this day has been two decades in the making. You’ve spent countless hours in classrooms and labs. You’re on a first name basis with the librarians at Belk. You’re sick of the spuds at McAlister’s, and the coffee at Crossroads no longer keeps you awake. You’ve seen success and if you’re like me, you’ve broken a beaker or two along the way. But perhaps most significant – you’ve made some great memories and friendships that will last you a lifetime.

However, one thing these speakers failed to mention, for many of you, this commencement will be the last time you’ll have to sit there, patiently listening to some gray-haired guy drone on-and-on, telling you things you’re likely to forget about in a week anyway.

Remember all those artists and paintings you learned about in that art history course first semester, freshman year? Well the truth is, I don’t remember a lot from my art history class either. And while I may have forgotten which artist went with which period, what has stayed with me is that appreciation … that sense of wonder, inspired by those classes.

Unlike the details, facts and figures you were forced to memorize for your exams, the importance of college – or any life-altering experience – are the values you take away.

Appalachian has instilled in you the values of hard work, perseverance and a sense of community. While you may forget how to solve a simple quadratic equation, the principles and ethics you’ve learned here will continue to guide your lives.

These lessons will come in handy, because today is the day you enter the so-called “real world.” Luckily, you’ll find the real world is very similar to the college environment. Long hours of work will sometimes go unappreciated. No matter how much you study, you’ll never remember everything. And giving an apple to the boss won’t get you a bigger paycheck.

For most of you however, unlike college, from this day forward you’re in charge of paying your own way. So I hate to break it to you, but the time has come for you to move out of your parent’s house and get a job! Oops. My 84 year old father is here today, and that was the lecture he gave to me when I graduated college. For all you parents out there, I hope your children take that advice a little sooner than I did.

But today, I’m not here to talk about your finances. Nor am I here to discuss job opportunities – although, we are always looking to hire the brightest and best people at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Rather, I’m here to talk about the future – your future.

Early last century, the Scottish entertainer Harry Lauder said, “The future is not a gift - it is an achievement.”

In a few minutes, you, the Class of 2007, will officially become the drivers of our nation’s – and our world’s – future. No longer relegated to the back seat, today’s generation is being asked to take the wheel and drive.

“The future is not a gift - it is an achievement.” Harry Lauder, like my father, lived through both World War I and World War II. They witnessed the incredible chaos of those wars and must have experienced a profound sense of uncertainty for what the future may hold. But instead of waiting for the future to happen to them, their generation – aptly called the “greatest generation” – took control of the wheel and became the drivers of our world’s destiny.

Generations of leaders are shaped by their early experiences. And while in high school, the Class of 2007 was shaped by the attacks of September 11th. Just like my father, you’ve grown up during uncertain times. You’ve seen the affects of unspeakable brutality, and felt anger directed toward an unknown enemy that hoped to take our lives and steal our freedoms. Even so, your class has witnessed boundless bravery, undying optimism, and national unity unparalleled in most of our lifetimes.

You’ve grown up with the phrase, “nine-eleven,” as a challenge to your entire generation. You young men and women before us today – the new generation of leaders – have heard a call to service. Today, you’re being asked to answer that call.

The future is an achievement – and members of your generation have an opportunity to build a healthier, safer, freer future for people all over the globe. Where the down-trodden are in need, where life-saving discoveries are waiting to be uncovered, or where people yearn for liberty – the Class of 2007 can and should be there.

Our nation is anchored in the old-fashioned values of truth, liberty and compassion. You came to ASU with these values and the thirst for knowledge and this university merely gave you the tools to be better prepared when it became your turn to drive our future.

Wherever you end up, the world will challenge you to serve and make a difference. When I graduated from Taylor University, I left the small college-town of Upland, Indiana fully intending to make some real money for the first time in my life. Along the way, an opportunity arose to get some governmental experience at EPA. Although I planned on getting that public sector background on my resume and then returning to the business world to cash in, I fell in love with serving a cause greater than myself. And today, over 26 years later, I’m honored to still be serving our country, working to improve the quality of the environment for current and future generations of Americans.

And just two years ago, I received the ultimate honor … to be personally sworn as the head of EPA by the President of the United States. I don’t care who you are, or what your party affiliation is, when the Leader of the Free World presides over your oath of office, your reaction would be the same as mine was: wow!

Like me, the President believes the character of America will ultimately be shaped by the willingness of the next generation of leaders to serve causes larger than themselves … that the future must be an achievement – not a gift.

Everyday in my job, I am encouraged to see people serving something bigger than themselves by doing their part to protect our shared environment.

At EPA, we believe that environmental responsibility is everyone’s responsibility. Thankfully, our citizens are getting the message.

From newspaper headlines to the covers of Fortune 500 reports, we are reading about more and more companies, communities and individuals working to outdo each other in going “green.” The United States is shifting to a “green culture.” So now, instead of having only 17,000 EPA employees working to protect the environment, we have 300 million Americans as environmental partners. And that’s just here at home.

As our science expands, so does our understanding that pollution knows no political, or geographic, boundaries. As we work with developed and developing nations such as India and China to address global environmental challenges like climate change, improving air quality and promoting healthy water supplies, we must recognize that hundreds of millions – if not billions – of people are struggling to meet basic daily needs. Running water, electricity, sanitation, trash disposal and even stoves for cooking are nonexistent in many communities throughout the world. It will take leadership, ingenuity and a spirit of compassion from your generation to help bring these life-changing necessities to all corners of the earth.

Appalachian has prepared you well to help create a brighter world. It has sharpened your minds and primed your character with the tools to answer the call to service.

Overcoming the world’s challenges will require the Class of 2007 to not just inherit the future, but achieve it.

Looking forward, you will make mistakes, but you will also have an opportunity to grow with each new challenge. As you serve, you will also form new and lasting relationships – just like the friendships you made here at ASU. Sitting around you are some of the best friends you will ever have in your life. You’ve gotten used to seeing them every day – able to walk down the hall or down the street, to talk to them whenever you want.

In the wake of the devastating shootings at Virginia Tech, we are reminded to cherish these relationships and the community you’ve been a part of as members of the ASU family.

Many of you are understandably nervous about exiting the safe shelter of Appalachian for the uncertain. But let me assure you the values you’ve sharpened and sense of community you've known here are gifts that will never leave you.

As you go about your great work and your great lives, remember that you're not only Appalachian grads, but also ambassadors of this school of excellence, representatives of your families and servants of your communities.

“The future is not a gift - it is an achievement.” By serving causes larger than yourself, you will not only enrich your life, you will help create a more hopeful future for us all.

Thank you all very much … and again, congratulations to the Class of 2007.