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Do what you can with what you’ve got where you are

By Seth Eisenberg

In a speech to Kalamazoo Central High School’s graduating class of 2010 this week, President Barack Obama urged the students to heed the words of Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can with what you’ve got where you are.”

The President shared lessons he hoped would inspire and guide a new generation of leaders, values that are the foundation of strong families, organizations, and communities across the globe:

  1. Persevere. “Meaningful achievement, lasting success, doesn’t happen in an instant … it’s about daily effort, the large choices and the small choices that you make that add up over time … it’s about the skills you build, the knowledge you accumulate, the energy you invest in every task.”
  2. Take responsibility. “Don’t make excuses, take responsibility not just for your successes, take responsibility for how you fall short as well … you’re not going to succeed the first time you try something … the easiest thing in the world is to look around for someone else to blame … don’t make excuses.”
  3. Deepen Empathy. “Don’t just hang out with people who look like you … broaden your circle to include people with different backgrounds and life experiences because that’s how you’ll learn what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes … that’s how you’ll come to understand the challenges other people face … it will broaden your ambit of concern as you learn to see yourselves in each other.”
  4. Give Back. “Be part of something bigger than yourselves … think for a minute about the extraordinary men and women who have worn our country’s uniform and have given their last full measure of devotion to keep us safe and free … what if they said I really do love this country, but why should I sacrifice so much for people I have never met … it is going to be up to you to meet the challenges … it’s going to be up to you to heal the divide that continues to inflict our world … service binds us to each other … it’s how we become more fully American.”

I listened to the President’s remarks hours after proudly cheering for my son, Michael, as we celebrated his graduation from Cypress Bay High School and days after returning from more than a week of intensive training in San Diego with active duty military, veterans, VA Chaplains and others who have devoted much of their lives to serving our nation.

I thought about the 6,595 days that passed from the moment of Michael’s birth to this milestone in his life, our family’s, and my own, about the challenges each of those days offered to persevere, take responsibility, see ourselves in others, and give back.

What will our world look like 6,595 days from today, I wondered? What challenges will we face to test and determine our own faith and values? How will we collectively respond to each day’s renewed invitation to embrace, experience, and cherish each moment?

From Kalamazoo to Weston and around the world, the graduates of 2010 face daunting opportunities and challenges. For these extraordinary young adults, their parents, siblings, teachers, friends, neighbors and so many whose lives they will touch, the President’s words encourage each of them — all of us — to make a difference.

Seth Eisenberg is President and CEO of PAIRS Foundation, one of the nation’s leading providers of relationship skills training.

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June 2010
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