"If you don’t see a way
that your own goodness
shines, then find a way
to share it more visibly."


"...in northeastern section of
Africa, where nearly 20 million
people, many of them children,
are starving..."

"There is an effective way to save
those children and others like them
around the world. It comes via a
product developed by a French
doctor and produced by several
companies, including Edesia
here in the United States called
PlumpyNut.  It costs between
33 and 40 cents a packet and
the only block between life and
death is the willingness of
people to part with a small
amount of money to let people
live.  Somewhere between 99
cents and a dollar twenty a day
to save a child. "

For the purchase of
PlumpyNut RIUTF packets:


www.edesianutrition.org/donate

 

For other groups mentioned:

God's Love We Deliver
www.glwd.org

Senior Care
www.visitingneighbors.org

Read out and aloud
www.reachoutandreadnyc.org

Holy Apostle's Soup Kitchen
www.holyapostlessoupkithcen.org

Save the Children
www.save the children.org

 

Dr. Dawson's Remarks

Delivered at the 101st Annual Commencement Exercises
June 15, 2017
Merkin Hall


To my dear friends in the Class of 2017:

At noon on March 4, 1861, on the East façade of the unfinished Capital Building in Washington DC, on the cusp of the Civil War, in warm and clear weather, following a rainy morning, Abraham Lincoln said the following to his countrymen at his first Inauguration:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

In his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, author Steven Pinker contends that violence in human society is decreasing at a rapid rate and that our tolerance of violence is decreasing even faster.  He posits that the world is getting better in myriad ways.

David Brooks, in his book, The Road to Character, mentions that the Book of Genesis contains two very different aspects of the archetypal Adam. Adam as the career oriented, ambitious male and Adam the thoughtful and reflective male seeking to have “a serene inner character with a quiet sense of right and wrong not only to do good but to be good.” Brooks, an optimist, increasingly sees the world moving toward that more thoughtful manifestation of Adam in individuals both well known and not. 

Walt Disney himself once said, “All of our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them”.

From the real-life mark of bravery in the face of danger to the committed health care worker in the midst of an Ebola outbreak, we are, if we listen, if we are open to hearing it, surrounded by messages and messengers that speak to our better nature, that fill us with a sense of hope, that empower us to be our best. At a time when so much focus has been directed in the most negative way possible, I stand here, firm in my conviction, and supported by the facts, both written and realized, that the world is overwhelmed with good intentions and good people, that hope is alive and well, that each of us can make a difference and touch a life, and that the opportunities to change the world toward the better are both abundant and available if we just take a moment to look for them and to find them.

When I was a young boy, my mother tells me that one of my favorite books was, “The Little Engine that Could”; you may have read it yourself. It’s a simple tale actually about the need to carry a trainload of toys and animals over a mountain for the boys and girls who live on the other side and the sequential response of numerous and varied anthropomorphized train engines that each say that they cannot do it for reasons varied and unique. Only one small engine, a little blue engine, the little engine that could, takes the task on and climbs the hill, struggling along the way but driven by a repeating refrain: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” and, indeed he does. He does succeed in reaching the top of the hill and rejoices as the cargo and the train travel down the hill with a new refrain, “I thought I could, I thought I could, I though I could”. It was and remains a children’s classic because it’s all about having faith and stamina and willpower and it’s all about conviction and hope and perseverance. It’s a reminder to us all that we often can if we think we can and we often won’t if we think we can’t.

I’m convinced that Abraham Lincoln, Pinker, Brooks and Disney, and the optimists among us are right. We can do it.

I’m convinced that Abraham Lincoln, Pinker, Brooks and Disney, and the optimists among us are right. We can do it. We are becoming a better world, no matter what you hear to the contrary. Peace and freedom are spreading, although unevenly and certainly with notable exceptions and a few setbacks to be sure. Despite an alarming frequency of terrorism, the march forward toward justice and acceptance continues. We do see an amazing array of people who not only do good but are good. We can share the experiences and joys of a world around us – certainly as much as we can feel the pain of those brutally lost following the attacks in London two weeks ago or the sad loss of life at the Ariana Grande Concert in Manchester England or the busload of Coptic Christians ambushed near Cairo or those refuges lost at sea fleeing from the dreadful horrors of an uncertain homeland.  I do not seek to deny how much we still need to do but I do hope to change the narrative – at least on occasion – so as to focus on how much we have already done. I do not seek to deny the long road to progress but rather to affirm Dr. Martin Luther King’s belief that “the arc of history is long but bends toward justice”. There is overwhelming evidence – often, as I mentioned a few weeks ago during my remarks at the Senior Honors Assembly, hidden by more dire news and rarely featured – that we are making progress, that we are moving toward justice, that we are seeing a slow global movement away from hunger and thirst and abject poverty. What we do see, if we open our eyes to see it, if we take the time to notice, if we push beyond the prevalence of bad news to study the world in its entirety, we see that, increasingly, we work together, globally, whether led by governments or by the people, to pursue our dreams, together, and we share and see the courage to do so all over the world.

My point this morning is certainly not to bury my head – or yours – into the sand and deny the terrible elements of evil and the multiple and terrible examples that move us away from such progress and hope; I am, if nothing else, an advocate for involvement, both political and personal, wherever your convictions may lie. My point this morning is to say that we are moving forward, that we do see a vast range of examples of individuals, towns, states, provinces, nations and regions – and even corporations - that have shown us the better angels of our nature, that strive to create a state where the richness of life is shared and the dream to be alive and well broadens and permeates a larger percentage of the earth’s population, a world where we see our place as stewards of the limited resources and realities of land and climate and water.  I do see good in the world – it surrounds us and bathes us and nurtures us. It elevates us. It is the homeless man who jumped up to help the wounded in Manchester. It’s the medics and doctors and nurses throughout the world who treat the sick and the malnourished and the hopeless. It’s the social worker who aids, the teacher who teaches, the parent who sacrifices so much to create a better life for her or his children; it’s the men and women who serve in the armed forces as an advocate for peace and the police who serve – and serve well – to aid their communities. It’s the volunteer at the soup kitchen, the blood donor at the hospital, the preacher who welcomes all and who sees divinity in each and every person, regardless of their faith, their orientation, their creed or their lack thereof. It’s the scientists bringing us closer to the cure for HIV, the researchers who develops a medicine to cure hepatitis, the physicist who figured out those remarkable lenses that shift light and grant color to the truly color blind. It’s the artist who shares his or her craft and, in doing so, elevates, moves, inspires and empowers.

It’s each of us .It’s each of us who reaches out to help. It’s each of us who reaches out to affirm. It’s each of us who welcomes the stranger...

It’s each of us .It’s each of us who reaches out to help. It’s each of us who reaches out to affirm. It’s each of us who welcomes the stranger, helps the frail, and empowers the frightened. It’s each of us who donate our time to teach others to read; it’s each of us who give blood; it’s each of us who performs to enlighten or brighten the dark and lonely. It’s the dollar we give to a good cause; it’s the time we give to another person; it’s the love we share, the time we spend, the listening we do, the thoughtfulness with which we seek to help those who ask for our assistance.

If you don’t see a way that your own goodness shines, then find a way to share it more visibly.

New York City is teeming with organizations seeking help. SeniorCare is looking for people to visit and/or bring meals to the elderly and homebound who suffer in loneliness. Gods Love We Deliver needs people to make meals and deliver them for those suffering from AIDS. Soup kitchens around the City need you to serve those who go hungry. There was just a story in the New York Times recently about how many people are fed at the Holy Apostles church in Chelsea each and every day and how they need your help. Read Out and Aloud is seeking for volunteers to read to and teach people to read, to share the tales and the stories and the transcendence that comes from reading with those heretofore unable to do so themselves. 

In the midst of lost news, somehow pulled from the front pages by the focus on what may not be working, we sometimes lose sight of the grand calamities of the world that that we can solve. Sadly, no one has paid much attention to the developing story of mass starvation in Sudan, and the northeastern section of Africa, where nearly 20 million people, many of them children, are starving – with large numbers losing that battle every single day. Drought and political disarray have prevented them from having reliable food sources available to them and the stories are wrenching.  On the surface, it seems hopeless but it turns out that there is an effective way to save those children and others like them around the world. It comes via a product developed by a French doctor and produced by several companies, including Nutriset in France and Edesia here in the United States called PlumpyNut. It’s a paste in a foil wrapper that contains protein, dried milk, oil, sugar, essential minerals and vitamins and the calories that will bring a child back from the brink of death to the fullness of life. It’s a food resource called an RUTF for Ready to Use Therapeutic Food and it’s designed for anyone over 6 months old suffering from severe acute malnutrition. A starving child needs only three of the 92-gram packages a day for seven to 10 weeks to go from near death to healthy. 3 packets a day.  It costs between 33 and 40 cents a packet and the only block between life and death is the willingness of people to part with a small amount of money to let people live. Somewhere between 99 cents and a dollar twenty a day to save a child. Numerous organizations, including Save the Children, are active doing their best in that particular area of the world but PlumpyNut has now been used to treat such severe acute malnutrition in 48 countries, including the United States, where one recent study showed that one out of 6 children in this country go hungry at least on occasion. Edesia, the manufacturer based in Rhode Island, takes contributions to send the packets to where they are needed most.  These groups need help. My help. Your help. Our help. It may not be a task that you can do right at home but it is the right thing to do. Save those children. Save their lives.  You can do it for somewhere between 99 and 120 cents a day. If you want to save one child from start to finish, and if you want to include the cost for shipping, it typically would run about 50 dollars to save a life. What a powerful idea that this room alone could save a village full of children. Together. Doing good and being good.

In these and so many other ways, we can be those individuals who reaffirm Lincoln’s faith in the better angels of our nature. We can support Pinker and Brook’s contention of goodness of character and be the source of good and be good at the same time. We can elevate Walt Disney’s dream of anything being possible by simply doing. Acting on it. Staying on it. Believing in it.

You have the capacity to do well and to do good. We can push back. WE can change the world. Find a place to do both. Reach out. Help out and don’t shut out both the need for help and the power of helping. Show the world that good will win. That hope still reigns. That possibility still drives us forward. Much as Gandhi exhorted us, “be the change you wish to see in the world”.

I have faith that you all are good. I am confident that we can fight back against the darkness and the ignorance and the intolerance so prevalent in the world today. Push back with knowledge. Push back with focus. Push back with facts. Push back with time. Push back with philanthropy. Push back with bake sales and yard sales and PlumpyNut, donating to those in need rather than accepting yet another Christmas or Hanukah or Birthday gift for ourselves. Push back with hope. Push back against despair. Push back against ignorance. Welcome the stranger. Empower everyone without regard to gender, origin, religion, sexuality or gender expression. The world can be changed by those willing to act. The naysayers can be overcome. The ignorant can be taught. The biased can be sensitized. Is any of this an easy task? No. As President Kennedy once said, we do these things “not because they are easy but because they are hard, because” such goals, “will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win”. As Albert Einstein said, “the world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

I have no doubt, my good friends in the Class of 2017, that during your life you will be a force for continued change and that we will all journey on that path forward together. I have no doubt that you will bring us closer to that better world so faithfully espoused by Abraham Lincoln.

One final thought for each of you: In all of this, in all of the days to come, in the journey that you take and that we all take as we work toward that better world, as we share the Lincolnesque and deep seated faith in the better angels of our nature, I shall miss you my friends. Your absence will leave a mark on my heart and your presence shall leave a mark on my soul. Today is always such a hard thing for all of us but it is a gift as well.
It’s the gift of knowing that shared time has value, of recognizing that shared moments leave an indelible remnant that makes us better and touches us in a way that we are never the same. It was Winnie the Pooh who reminded us so eloquently when he said: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying good-bye so hard” For me, that something has been each of you. Thank you for all you have brought to us and for touching our lives.

In the spirit of my remarks and with absolute faith in each of you, go out there, my friends, and not only do good but be good.

 


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