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Winter 2000 Commencement
February 2, 2000
Mr. President, the only president I'm really sure of. I could listen to a little more of an introduction if you wanted to continue for awhile....
I'm supposed to as an elder statesmen here say something like this: You young people as you go out into the world, let me guide you and say don't go (laughter). I must tell you with all frankness and with all the sincerity I have, that all my life has been a fight in order to establish reality, determine what is real and what is not real, separate the wheat from the chaff, and I think we're losing. I think it is becoming an uphill battle. I think we are losing in large part of what technology does in making it easier to be able to manipulate us.
I thought we reached some kind of climax on New Year's Eve when there was Dan Rather standing in Times Square, behind him a billboard that said CBS. But, if you were standing in Times Square at that time you would have seen a billboard that said NBC. Thanks to the wonders of technology, it is possible today to digitally remove one thing from a picture and to put another thing into the picture and do whatever you want, and they call that virtual reality. I said virtual reality, which I find something quite different from virtuous reality.
About ten years ago ABC had a scoop, Peter Jennings announced on Friday evening that they had a big scoop about an American diplomat being investigated by the FBI on suspicion of being a spy for the Russians, and they astonished me by then preceding to show secrets being exchanged between the spy in Vienna and a Russian Agent. Murky light, ....clock in the corner which is what the CIA uses and the FBI uses with surveillance film. It was quite remarkable. Turned out however what this was, was a re-enactment using ABC personnel. And I thought if we're reaching the stage in life in this history in our country where you don't know what is real anymore and what is not real. Assisted I'm told by the internet where people say things to each other by email that they wouldn't think of saying to each other in person.
And I hear now, that it is possible even at this great university to get counseling to kick the habit of being completely wrapped up in a world which is not a world of human beings, but a world of electronic blips and signals. I would ask you to try if you can to hold on to what reality we have left. Because it is so rapidly being lost.
I have one other message for you, back some years ago I got into terrible trouble. In 1976, I had gotten an advanced copy of a House Intelligence's Committee report investigating the CIA. And then the House voted to suppress the report. But I already had a draft copy, and decided that I couldn't be a part of suppression of news. I had to be part of making it public and I did that. The CIA got mad at me, Richard Helms called me some names I will not mention here, President Ford, Henry Kissinger, and most painfully of all CBS. And that became in the end, the end of my twenty-five year career with CBS. Looking back on it I feel pretty good about it.
And I would pass on to you this advice: You will be under enormous pressure wherever you go to work now, you will be under enormous pressure to comply, to go along in order to get along. Once in your career between now and the end of that career, do something as a matter of principle that involves some risk to you, financial or other. At least once, stand up for something you believe in, instead of saying, ‘well they know better than I do’, and you will know what's right and you will know what's wrong. So if you can get a little hold on reality out in the world out there, and if you can manage to keep your own sense of principles, your own sense of what's right and what's wrong, and not be pushed around by either big corporations or big unimportant people. One risk for what's right, you'll feel good. Thank you.
President John F. Kennedy spoke at American University's Spring Commencement on June 10, 1963. In this speech Kennedy called on the Soviet Union to work with the United States to achieve a nuclear test ban treaty and help reduce the considerable international tensions and the specter of nuclear war at that time. (text of speech)
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