Your entire life, you always hear leadership talk. You can do this, you can do that. Some is inspirational (“Somewhere in the world right there is someone your age that will one day change the world. Why not you? You can do whatever you want to!” -Rick Horwitch). Some not so much (“Study hard, play hard, but no throwing chairs!” -Steve Wilkos).
Tonight I got the opportunity to listen to 3 amazing speakers at the University of Oregon Presidential Leadership Symposium. Starting with President Richard Lariviere, the speakers all urged the 200 to be the best we could. Then, Ana Maria Merico began her speech. She started by having everyone close their eyes and envision a 21 year old immigrant, not speaking English, pregnant, with $400 total dollars. She came to America from Argentina and sought greatness. People told her she couldn’t do it, she asked why. Her message rings true with the quote from my dad above. You can do whatever you want! Just don’t let anything get in the way!
Finally, Rev. Jesse Jackson took the stage. Starting slow and quiet, as he has thousands of times before, he slowly grew into a heated, fast paced, passionate, loud speech. His message? Champions play through pain. “You must bloody up the uniform some times! Champions play through pain!” He spoke of Dr. King’s famous speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Yet he said that while the famous message of having a dream was what was taken away from the speech, that it was not the message delivered. “Dr. King looked to the statue and said ‘Mr. Lincoln, you gave the proclamation, but did not grant emancipation!'” He gave a timeline of change, starting in 1948 and ending on a November night in a Chicago park. How did we, as a country, go from WWII African-American veterans not having the same rights as White veterans, to having an African-American President? Students. We have the power. We are the most powerful demographic. We need to “Democratize Democracy!” Make Democracy a Democracy. We all need to have our voices heard!
“When Rosa Parks sat down on that bus, she broke the law. The driver needed to save his job. The police were called.” There is a difference between moral right and legal obligation. Which do we go by? Which do we choose? The US Government allows the free speech that the Pacifica Forum is participating in on this campus right now, but that does not make it right. Moral right, legal obligation.
He then continued on about students. He asked who in the crowd was on some sort of aid at the University. When a few hands went up he corrected everyone. “Surprise, you all are! This is a government funded facility. You are all being aided by the government. You are all on some sort of aid!” He told a story of a man who had a MediCare card in one pocket, a Social Security in the other, driving down a major US highway. “The man said to me ‘I do not want the government aiding and funding my actions.’ Then how are you going to survive?”
Finally, he turned his speech to the welfare of the students. “You can get a car with 0% interest. You can get a bank [account] with 0% interest. But when you take out a student loan, after you graduate, you’re in debt. You get married into debt, and your first mortgage is payed by an IOU. We must get rid of interest on student loans. We must allow our students to graduate and be free!”
The final thing he said to the crowd was during a Q&A session. He was asked if people should be Color Blind. His response, “Do not deny who you are. We are all black, white, yellow, red, brown. Do not be color blind, be color tolerant. Be aware. Thank you. God bless you. I love you Eugene!” And he walked off the stage.
What did I take from this? Everything. Do what you want. Why? Why not?! Do what is morally right, not necessarily legally mandated. We, the students, can make a difference. “Democratize Democracy!” Don’t let things get in the way. Achieve greatness. “You can do whatever you want to!”