Speech for Columbia High School
South Orange and Maplewood School District
June 3, 2010
Thank you and good afternoon. I consider it a privilege to continue my association with the members of the South Orange and Maplewood community who make up the Scholarship Fund Committee. Please join me in congratulating the Committee for their efforts.
As in the past, I’d like to share some thoughts with you from my readings. This time, they’re from a book by Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., entitled, Make It Plain: Standing Up and Speaking Out.
A little background for those who are not familiar with Mr. Jordan:
Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., is a senior managing director of Lazard Frères Co. LLC and a senior counsel with Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld, LLP. Earlier in his career, Mr. Jordan served as president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League, Inc.; executive director of the United Negro College Fund, Inc.; director of the Voter Education Project of the Southern Regional Council; attorney-consultant at the US Office of Economic Opportunity; assistant to the executive director of the Southern Regional Council; Georgia field director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and as an attorney in private practice in Arkansas and Georgia.
[Mr. Jordan serves] on the board of numerous companies and universities [,] … has been awarded more than 60 honorary degrees, and in 2001 was the recipient of the NAACP’s highest honor, the Joel E. Spingarn Medal [that is] awarded for distinguished achievement by black Americans.
[Mr. Jordan] is a graduate of DePauw University and the Howard University Law School …. (Jordan 239)
Now, you’re probably wondering, why is she spending so much time on Mr. Jordan’s background? The reason is quite simple; I want you to get a snapshot of what goes into being a contributor to society. I want you to get a snippet of who’s worth listening to on issues that matter. The question is, how does one qualify to “stand up and speak out” on such problems as unemployment, the plight of the poor, equal rights, fair housing, and voter’s rights?
If you take the time to study the life of Mr. Jordan and/or the lives of other great Americans, you’ll find some recurring themes, including a fierce passion to achieve -- not necessarily for self aggrandizement, but in response to a significant life event or perhaps a situation that took place in society-at-large. Other themes or commonalities are discipline to stay focused on their “cause” and a keen sense of purpose in life.
Mr. Jordan studied the “American way” or the “system”. He identified mentors to emulate, and figured out what he needed to do to fulfill his legacy. In his book he says, “Early in my life, I decided I wanted to be an advocate for black America’s quest to gain the full measure of American citizenship, and it was quite
clear that required the ability to speak in a way that influenced
people” (xi). Mr. Jordan’s interest in public speaking at an early age enhanced his ability to achieve his goal.
What is your “passion”? What is your “cause”? What do you believe you must “stand up and speak out” about? Are you on a course of action to prepare yourself for this journey? Do you have the discipline and focus to make it happen? Who are your mentors? Do you have the right people in your life?
I encourage you to make time to address these issues in your life, because America -- and our world at-large, need greatness, but not just any kind of greatness. We need greatness of character, mind, and spirit. Anyone can stand on a corner and wave a placard to draw attention to a “cause,” but it takes greatness of character, discipline, a purposeful mindset and a passionate spirit to make a dent on the critical problems that we face. We need great Americans to help fix what isn’t working for the least among us. Indeed, we need great Americans to help us live up to what Jordan calls Lincoln’s “rhetorical description” of the nation in his Gettysburg Address: “… conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” (x).
Prepare yourself, believe in yourself, believe in your “cause,” then go out there and start “standing up and speaking out.”
Thank you and congratulations!
Jordan, Jr., Vernon E. Make It Plain: Standing Up and Speaking
Out. New York: PublicAffairs, 2008. Print.