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Sam Power’s address to Pitzer – Claremont College CA (Obama adviser)

The following is Samantha Power’s address to the graduating class of Pitzer-Claremont College in California earlier this month.

It is an indescribable honor to be here with you today, class of 2008. It is an even greater honor that you extended the invitation before what I now — with exaggerated self-importance — call “Monster-gate.” I am grateful to you for not rescinding the invitation after I opened my big mouth and became global villain for a day. If you ever needed evidence that even college graduates never grow up — they just get more sophisticated at disguising their inner child — I offered it. Thanks for standing by your humbled commencement speaker.

Since I graduated from college in 1992, I have been blessed to have been a part of some pretty momentous causes. Yet I count as the greatest privileges of my life the sunny days like this one, where I have the chance to deliver a commencement address. I take this responsibility very seriously, and I consider it a great act of trust toward a stranger. So thank you again, Pitzer.

Ok now that I’ve raised expectations, let me add a qualifier: be wary today and every other day of anybody who claims to have specialized knowledge on the way things should turn out. In your lives or in the world.

I was in Fenway Park and Yankee stadium in October 2004, at the start of your freshman year here, when the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs to vanquish the New York Yankees and the curse and win their first World Series in 86 years. The experts said it couldn’t be done, but the experts knew history, they knew that no baseball team had ever come back from three games down in a series. The experts knew things, but they didn’t know those Boston Red Sox.

I was in Darfur, Sudan that same year, and I met refugees who begged me to bring their stories back to the United States so the U.S. government would act. The Darfurians pleaded for humanitarian aid to be delivered, for Sudan’s killers to be prosecuted, and for peacekeepers to be sent to protect civilians. The experts said it couldn’t be done, that governments traditionally pursue their “national interests,” that the U.S. government was too busy with al Qaeda, North Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan to worry about “mere” humanitarian issues. Again, the experts knew things, but they didn’t know that STAND chapters would spring up on 500 college campuses across the country, that ordinary people concerned about Darfur would create a 1-800-genocide number, that members of Congress would be given “genocide grades” for their actions and would scramble to move from a C- to a B. The experts didn’t know that students on the Pitzer college campus would organize a concert for Darfur that would raise $7,000. And they certainly didn’t know that this movement would generate such political pressure that the United States would spend more than $3 billion keeping those refugees alive. They didn’t know that the International Criminal Court would indict the leading war criminals. And they didn’t know that a peacekeeping force would be authorized. Now let me be clear: the killings have not stopped, and there is far more left to do. But if citizens had deferred to conventional wisdom about what was doable, many more people in Darfur would no longer be with us today.

And back in 2005 I was minding my own business when I received an email from the office of a certain junior Senator from Illinois inviting me to drop by to discuss his vision for fixing U.S. foreign policy. A one hour meeting with this man, Barack Obama, turned into such a staggering four hour tutorial (I was the student, he the teacher) that I decided then and there to leave my job as a professor at Harvard and move to Washington to work in his office. I have been open-mouthed — or what the Irish call, “gob-smacked” — ever since, as I’ve watched the race between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton electrify the nation. The experts said it couldn’t be done — they said men would never vote for a woman, but they did; they said that white Americans weren’t ready for an African-American, but they were; they said that young people would talk a good game, but they wouldn’t get their acts together to register and then to vote, but you did. The experts knew things, but they didn’t know today’s Americans, and they certainly didn’t know your generation of young people.

Again and again, the experts have proven wrong. Yet if the Red Sox, the Darfur activists, or Obama had deferred to these experts, history would have turned out very differently. The experts deal in probabilities, but you all have the chance to decide on possibilities and make what is possible real.

So how do you begin to think about doing that? I’d like to offer five suggestions.

Article continued in Huff Post …


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