On April 16, 2013, I gave a speech to an ROTC graduating class entitled, “A Time for Heroes.” As I read it over, it feels like an appropriate message for this time and place. I’ve updated it and share the essence with you now.
We celebrate what we call “The Greatest Generation” with good reason. The impact of the great depression remained part of their everyday lives through the end of the Second World War, a conflict where over 400,000 Americans gave their lives on the altar of Freedom. The sacrifices we have had to make so far as we battle a powerful viral enemy still pale by comparison.
But I believe that this generation still has the potential rise to The Greatest Generation. We live in a world where the bad guys never sleep, where it’s possible for selfish cowards to ascend to the highest echelons of leadership. And yet, we can choose to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We can hold our leaders to a higher standard and remove them if they don’t live up to it. Our careers can be a testament to the value of education, respecting the competitive advantage of diversity and tolerance, while modeling the very behaviors we expect from others.
We can fight the root causes of violence: fear, uncertainty, and doubt. We can elect, perhaps even become public servants who commit to creating a future where everyone has access to a first class education, world class health care, and the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. We can roll up our sleeves and fully participate in eliminating the hunger, ignorance and the despair that pushes weak minds in the direction of demagogues.
In fact, this sort of heroism is the only way our nation can endure. As the great Jackie Robinson said, “Life is not a spectator sport.” It’s fired at us, point blank. And what we do, or choose not to do, will affect the next generation, for better or worse.
The challenge of heroism then, is a choice that faces us every day. How we rise to that challenge will define the quality of our character. How we endure and evolve in this time of sacrifice can reveal new vistas of opportunity and invention that raise all boats.
I have great faith in our future. We’re all a little scared of the unknown that lies ahead. That’s normal. But peaceful warriors are everywhere. Victory and defeat are simply states of mind which we can choose to control. If we do, we are never beaten. The game clock never runs out until we take our last breath. And we can keep coming back to the field of battle again and again until we prevail.
There will always those who will try to knock us down. These are the ways of the unfortunate who want what we have, but would never commit to do the work to earn it. Through our actions and our example, we can show the world what excellence and heroism truly mean. And the world will again stand in awe of a new generation, committed to returning to the ideals of freedom, inclusion and innovation, that can make America the greatest nation in the world.
Sadly, there will more senseless violence. And some of us will die while fighting for the values we hold dear. The virus will kill and injure many thousands more before science and a committed nation strike its stain from the face of the earth. And there will always be the incendiaries who will try to divide us. But wherever there is hope, heroes emerge. And wherever there are heroes, men and women of every circumstance are inspired to dream of a better future. Each of us holds in our hands the power to help make that dream come true.
We are living the ultimate test of our resolve, our faith, and our values right now. Let 2020 be remembered as the year that renewed the fire in our bellies to reinvent the definition of greatness. How we choose to influence the direction of humanity in 2021 will define our generation.
That choice is ours. The time for heroes is now.