5/10/2014 Jason Klinger

George Stephanopoulos' Commencement Address to the Class of 2014

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The following is the text of remarks by George Stephanopoulosanchor of ABC's "Good Morning America" and host of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," as prepared for delivery at Franklin & Marshall College's 2014 Commencement:

Thank you, Dan Porterfield. To all of you, he's Mr. President; to me, he's the friend who impressed me in an instant -- the fire you see, the commitment and encouragement you feel, the mischief that's dancing in his eyes -- was all there when we first met 30 years ago. 

It's so heartening to see you doing the work you were meant to do.

I'm here also to help repay a debt to F&M. One of your star alumni and trustees, Stan Brand is not only the world's biggest baseball fan. He's also the top lawyer in Washington for those who get caught up in the craziness of the Capitol. Twenty years ago, during my time in the White House, I was one of them -- smack in the middle of a media firestorm. The details are not important now; it was one of those storms that die down as quickly as it came up. But at the time I was convinced my career was on the line, and my first call was to Stan, and he guided me through it by giving me wise counsel -- and making me laugh. For that, I will always be grateful.

Most of all, I'm excited to share this day with all of you, the Class of 2014. You've made it here after a long journey -- and I'm not talking about that nine-hour drive from Myrtle.

And I'm not talking about that climb to the third floor of Stager. Is it really that tough? I've heard a lot about that.

No, as grueling as those are, I'm guessing they're not as daunting as the challenges you faced as freshmen, wondering which Harry Potter house would be yours and whether you could meet the high standards set by Franklin & Marshall.

By coming here, you chose to be challenged, and after all those tests -- and countless hours at Shad -- you all have met that challenge and given yourselves a great gift: the gift of an education that will last.

I hope you leave here today confident that you made the right choice more than four years ago. Everything I know about F&M tells me you did, and I was struck by a study released this week that basically proves it.

You see, that's what happens when you get older. While you guys were having fun at Myrtle I was reading this study of college graduates by Gallup. And here's what it found: the graduates happiest, and most engaged later in life, were the ones who developed meaningful emotional and educational connections with committed professors and mentors while in college.

That's what happens here. It happened for Deanna Miserendino and Caitlin Brust, who took the challenge from Classics Professor Shawn O'Bryhim to solve the mystery of a 15th-century Latin manuscript written in gothic script. It happened for math majors Andrew Miller and Donghui Li, who helped Robert Gethner write an upper level textbook. It's no surprise that Professor Gethner said he learned as much from those two as they learned from him.

I'm sure it's happened for more of you than I can mention now, so thank your professors for everything you do. I know it happened for me. Looking back at my own college experience I feel so lucky and grateful for professors who pushed me and opened up new worlds of experience.

Professors like Charles Hamilton, American politics, who coupled the fiery passion of a freedom rider with the bow tie and tweeds of a law professor.

Wallace Gray, literature. I can still picture him in the lecture room at dusk, reading Eliot's "Prufrock," or a passage from Joyce, a catch in his voice, a tear on his cheek. What a gift he gave -- teaching us to read with our hearts and write with feeling.

And Richard Pious, who taught the presidency. Years before I worked in the White House, he instructed me in the art of drafting a presidential memo with rigor and precision.

When I was sitting in their classrooms, I could not know, I could not ever imagine, that I would one day work for a real president, cover the major stories that shape our world or interview the artists and writers who give it meaning. Of course, I never imagined I'd be interviewing Kermit the frog or Boo, the world's cutest dog, either (please don't hold my professors responsible for that).

And indulge me, for just a few minutes, in recounting the lessons I've learned along a journey I have been lucky to experience.

No. 1, above all, make time for quiet. Listen to that inner voice that speaks to you in silence, when you're most in tune with who you are and who you want to be.

I'm Greek Orthodox and I come from a long line of Greek Orthodox priests -- my father, my grandfather,  my uncle, my godfather, my cousins. From the moment I could imagine what it would be like growing up, being a priest is what was expected of me -- and what I expected to be.

Until a day, when I was just a bit younger than you, sitting in class but alone with my thoughts, a feeling hit me with full force. I loved my father and revered his work and our tradition, but also knew right then, and for the first time, that his path would not be mine.

For the longest time I couldn't admit it. I simply lived my life and hoped the weight of expectation would lift away. What I discovered as I gravitated toward politics and journalism -- taking my first internships on my college radio station and on Capitol Hill -- my parents supporting me every step of the way, is something beautiful and true: people who really love you want you to do what you truly love.

So even as you thank your parents for all they've done to bring you here -- and let's do that now -- honor them even more with your independence. Reward them by charting  your own path, and don't be afraid to take a chance.             

I know how tough this economy is for so many, how daunting it can be to find that first job, how difficult it can be to make your way in a job market that doesn't carry the promise of security anymore. And I know that's especially true for those of you who have taken out loans to invest in yourselves and your future -- I was well over 30 before I paid off my college loans, and college was a lot less expensive then.

But even as you deal with that pressure, try not to let the search for security stop you from doing work that stirs you up, the kind of work you think about even when you're off the clock, the kind of work that you would do even if you weren't paid. That kept cropping up for me after college. People would ask, "When are you going to go to law school?" even though I loved what I was doing in Washington.

Later, in what might have been the single best career choice I ever made, I decided to leave a high level job on Capitol Hill and head to Little Rock, Arkansas -- at less than half the pay -- to work for Bill Clinton's campaign. It all looks very different later, but at the time, it looked like a long shot -- President Bush was riding high -- but Clinton was special, and I had to try. I had been part of a losing campaign four years before. I didn't want to give up without giving it one more chance. And while I didn't know then how that gamble would pay off, I truly believe it was the right choice even if that campaign had never gotten off the ground.

I hope you all stay curious and never stop learning. One of the best parts of my job right now is how many different parts of the world, how many stories, how much information it exposes me to every day. All that makes for a rich, stimulating and fast-paced professional life. But I also have to remind myself every single day to slow down, to think, remember what it's like to really study.

We all spend too much time on our iPhones. We track trivia and news, clicking on views and news that all too often confirm what we already believe. I urge you to carve out time as well for serious books and sustained thought. Don't let the intellectual muscles you trained here go slack. Remember the distinction between information -- available anywhere, any time with the touch of a fingertip -- and the knowledge that comes with mastering a subject and really understanding how things work.

And make the time, also, to serve. I know how many of you have already woven that value into your life. It made me happy to read about Swim for Success, the after-school mentoring and training program developed by your classmates Jin Hwang and Alexia Thompson, and to hear what a difference it's made in this community. And it inspired me to learn about One Goal, the initiative Mandi Tembo has launched in South Africa that uses sports as a way to connect young people to public health issues that could save their lives.

Some of you, like Mandi, will continue that path, pursuing public service after graduation. Some of you will make your contributions in other ways. All of us can dedicate at least a part of our lives to helping other lives, what the great Czech playwright and president Vaclav Havel called "the art of the impossible."

Finally, fellow graduates, one last recommendation: look up a man named George Saunders. If you haven't read his work, I hope you do one day. He's a treasure, America's living master of the short story, and he delivered the most profound and meaningful graduation speech I've ever heard, a meditation on the power of kindness convincing the students of Syracuse University that life is a "gradual process of becoming kinder" and counseling them to "start right now."

"Find out what opens you up," he said, what "brings out the most loving, generous and unafraid version of you. And as you experience everything that makes life exciting and meaningful and fun, always "err in the direction of kindness."

"Err in the direction of kindness."

Which is exactly what I'm going to do right now, by wrapping up this speech so you don't have to wait one more second for those degrees.

Congratulations graduates. Enjoy this day.

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