The Honorable Richard W. Riley
Former U.S. Secretary of Education
Former Governor of South Carolina

Thank you so much, Chair Paula Singer, and President Jonathan Kaplan, other members of the board of this great faculty and staff. Primarily though, and especially you graduates and your family and friends, it’s a real honor for me to be here and to join with you for this graduation.

It’s been a real personal and professional pleasure to know Paula Singer and Jonathan Kaplan for a number of years, and I want to thank Miriam and the Board of Directors for conferring the honorary degree upon me. I didn't even have to take a test. Very proud, needless to say, to have your college of education here at Walden University in my name.

As you noticed, the things that your president read about me, most of ’em are things in the past, things that I have done. When I came back from being Secretary of Education to South Carolina, after eight years out, I was in a grocery store with my wife, and this lady kept looking at me funny, and I finally went over to her and spoke to her, and she said, “Aren't you the late Secretary of Education?” Could I have a—I'm—I looked at her and smiled and said, “Not yet.”

Anyhow, I'm pleased to address all of you for this commencement, in addition to the 300 plus Walden graduates here, that are physically present, it's exciting that some 1500 or so additional graduates are participating in this commencement via webcast, and I think that's just remarkable. All of you at this wonderful graduation time, you know, this is Super Bowl Weekend, Tuesday is Super Tuesday, so this is a super graduation for Walden University.

One of the reasons I’m so proud to be associated very closely with Walden University is your mission, our mission, and that is to provide a diverse community of career professionals with the opportunity to transform themselves as scholar practitioners so that they may do their part, really, to transform society. As highly educated and motivated university graduates, as Walden University graduates, you are now prepared to do your part to proceed to transform society. You see, that's our mission at Walden, as well as our calling. Now that may seem like a monumental task, and it perhaps is, but what can one of us do, you might say. What can just a few of us do? Doesn’t it require a major institution to effect change?  Doesn’t it take governments to really transform society?

Margaret Mead, the famed cultural anthropologist, once wrote, “Never doubt for a moment that a small group of thoughtful and committed people could change the world.” Indeed, is the only thing that ever has changed the world. So, let us be that small group of thoughtful people, let us look around the world and see not just troubling issues. We have a lot of talk about that every time we turn on the television, about the tremendous opportunities that are there. Let us look within ourselves and see the knowledge and the confidence, and the ability to rise to those challenges, and to be the change that we want to see in our own families, our own communities, in our beloved country, and even in the world. You must remember that Walden is a key part of Laureate, which is an international network for higher education.

I’m so proud of the twelve flags behind me here that show the twelve countries represented by your graduates. Commencement, yes, a time of change and transforming, and I encourage you at this very moment to imagine the impact that you can have.

Now let me challenge each of you in your various disciplines, or as we think about what your discipline is. Education graduates, you can prepare learners at every grade level around the world to live a productive life and to achieve their dreams, What a worthwhile mission that is. Management graduates, you can create sustainable growth that ensures a promising future for generations to come. Psychology and Counseling graduates, you can give people the skills to live their lives to the fullest and contribute meaningfully to their communities. Public Health graduates, you can improve the physical, mental and social well-being of people in your community, and even on every continent. Nursing graduates, you can improve not just patient care, but all of health care and for all people, and every single patient is important. Public Administration graduates, you can bring together the public, private and nonprofit sectors to create innovative and effective community solutions. And engineering graduates, you can solve the problems that face not just your organization, but your entire industry.

You see, all of you can do these things, and as members of the Walden community, that attracts and inspires those who want to make a difference. And also, those who want to make more of a difference. You no doubt already are doing many of these things and critical work that you perform, to your profession, for the world out there, to keep this good, important work up is so very important. Be scholar practitioners as your president said. Henry David Thoreau, the author of the book Walden, famously wrote “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, live the life that you have imagined.”  Now there's no finer statement than that for a commencement, I don’t think, especially here at Walden University, and I say that because I’m confident that each of you, each of you Walden graduates, dreams that you will have not only to benefit yourself, but the community around you and the life that you imagine, and one filled with hope and success not only for you and your family, but for all those whom you can have a positive effect upon.

As future leaders in your various walks of life, please take the time, then, to stand back, ask yourself what's happening in the world around you. What are the forces, economic, cultural, social, spiritual, historical, environmental forces, forces that have the capacity to change your life? Change your business? Change your community?  And indeed the global society in which you live? You must gain perspective to learn to listen, to be wise and thoughtful, to recognize historical waves, economic trends, cultural movements and environmental changes, and then make the best decisions possible to help make our world more stable, more certain, more clear, and more understandable. In my view, worldwide, high quality education for all is the key to making that happen.

In addition to Walden’s wonderful education graduates, you will teach students in our formal education systems. Each of you can be a teacher. Each of you can be a teacher.  Each of you can be a mentor for your own children first, and then for other children and adults who need your assistance, since there’s a great need for help in reading and math literacy at all levels. Also, you can help teach the next generation of young people the importance of being a global citizen. You have the capacity to expand the horizons of the next generation, and to give some sense of how the world is rapidly changing, and what each of them might do to help shape it. So, we all must work together to create a vision that is inclusive and is dynamic, one that is forward looking and global in its reach, in order to sustain America’s greatness in this 21st Century.

Your Walden education has prepared and equipped you as Thoreau directed to go confidently in the direction of that vision, and live the life to help make it a reality.

Now, as I close, let me give each of you graduates, and perhaps your family and friends, too, what I consider to be some very good advice. It’s a quote from William Perky, an author and professor with the University of North Carolina system, and he says this:  " “Dance like there’s nobody watching, sing like there’s nobody listening, love like you will never get hurt, live like it’s heaven on Earth.” Once again, I give you my sincere congratulations. All of you graduates, all of your families and friends, and your achievement, I’m so confident that each one of you will have a bright and lively future ahead; but please as you leave this place, dance like nobody’s watching, sing like nobody’s listening, love like you’ll never get hurt, and live every single day like it’s heaven on Earth. Thank you so much.