The Moral Compass: Make a Difference and Ask: Can’t we do Better?

These are words from our mission:

Poughkeepsie Day School graduates students who:

  • Know who they are and follow their own compass with optimism and courage
  • Lead and inspire others through example, dedication and commitment to equity and justice

This is a part of Tom Brokaw’s commencement address at Stanford University last year:

“…welcome to a world of perpetual contradictions, welcome to a world of unintended consequences and unexpected realities. Welcome to a world in which war is not a video game, … in which genocide and ancient hatreds are not eliminated with a delete button. You won’t find the answer to global poverty in Tools or Help. You cannot fix the environment by hitting the Insert bar….

The memorable people for me represent that vast population of young and old of every hue and origin who gave up comforts and convention to answer their conscience, who are guided by their moral compass to difficult challenges and who are determined to make a difference. They lived in the real world and they took responsibility for it. They did not attach themselves simply to a virtual experience and find satisfaction in a search engine. They were boots on the ground, hands in the dirt, nights in scary places, healing and courageous. They stepped into the unknown and they made it more welcoming for the rest of us.

It is part of my privilege and my good fortune that I can stay in world-class hotels, I can attend state dinners and chat up kings, queens, billionaires, I can knock back a beer with Bruce Springsteen and talk back to Jon Stewart, I can call on movers and shakers on every continent. But I am never more alive intellectually or emotionally than when I am, for example, sitting outside of a ger in Mongolia listening to a young nomadic tribesman describe how he rode his horse 20 miles through freezing temperatures just for the chance to vote. Or sleeping in a cargo container as I did just this spring in the Pakistan earthquake zone with young American relief workers who had been on duty there for three months. Or riding a humvee with American Special Forces through a hot combat zone in Afghanistan to a primitive village to make sure people have the medical needs that they desired and needed. Or stepping into a wilderness anywhere in the world with all that I need in a backpack, no call waiting, thank you very much.

Life away from the keyboard, the PDA and the cell phone is a life in which you connect to the websites of your personal convictions, and that is an obligation you must carry with you the rest of your days. And that role is never more satisfying when it is expressed robustly, especially when others are attempting to suppress your participation or belittle your beliefs.

These are difficult times. We are at war. And this war, as all wars are, is one freighted with mistakes and miscalculations, lethal consequences, highly charged emotions, defeats and successes. It is the debate in which we all have a say. I have a special place in my mind and in my heart for those who understand that patriotism is not a loyalty oath. I am never more proud to be an American than when a fellow citizen steps forward and says, “Can’t we do better?”

One young person I know who graduated from Stanford that year has just such a moral compass and a commitment to making this world better.

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