by U.S. Representative Tony P. Hall '64
Lifetime of Service
Following an introduction by J. Bradford Tillson Jr. '66 ...
Thank you very much, my friend Brad. When Brad and I were both students at Denison I don't think anyone would have predicted that someday he would be the publisher of a major newspaper and I would be a Congressman.
It was many years ago when I sat where you sit today. As I thought about my remarks for today, I tried to recall the essence of the commencement address at my graduation. I can't remember a word that was said, or even who the speaker was. It's humbling to think my remarks may leave such a lasting impression on your minds.
Deciding just what to say at a commencement speech is difficult. Luckily, one of the few things I'm good at is asking for advice. I need lots of it. I asked my wife for a suggestion. She said, "Well, there's a first time for everything. Why don't you try to be funny."
Three men were arguing — a doctor, an architect, and a congressman. Each claimed that their profession was the oldest. The doctor said his was the oldest, since God created Eve out of Adam's rib. This, in fact, was a surgical operation. The architect said, "My profession is the oldest since God, just like any architect, created the world out of chaos." The Congressman responded, "And who do you think created the chaos?"
We sometimes hear that there is less opportunity than there once was. I don't believe that for a minute — that's nonsense.
Opportunity is something which comes from within. Opportunity is always around. But you must look for it. Success and hope go hand in hand.
One hundred years ago, a minister in Brewster, Massachusetts, was fired by his congregation. For many people, that might have been a terrible blow. But, this man took it as an opportunity to change his life.
He moved to New York and began a new career as a writer. The next year he wrote a book. It was the story of a poor street boy who was honest and industrious, and who took every opportunity. In the story, the boy becomes a wealthy success.
Just like him, and a hundred other characters who followed in later books, the author rose from poverty to become one of the most successful writers of his century.
That man was Horatio Alger, whose name today is virtually synonymous with rags-to-riches success.
The history of this great land and world is full of real-life Horatio Alger stories. The penniless immigrant who steps off the boat with nothing but his clothes, who works hard, saves his money, and becomes an owner of a department store chain.
The son of a poor farmer who uses his ingenuity and business skills to fashion an industrial empire.
The tinkerer who invents a gadget which sells worldwide.
The person who reaches out to his neighbor or looks at a pressing problem and says, "I want to do something."
Here in Ohio , in my hometown of Dayton, the Wright brothers invented the airplane. They had no professional training — just ambition and persistence — and they succeeded where all others had failed.
Ghandi was responsible for winning independence from India through entirely peaceful methods — a goal everyone thought was impossible.
William Wilberforce led the campaign to abolish slavery in the British empire. It took him 30 years. In the end, he succeeded. He made the world a better place.
I can't think of anyone who took advantage of opportunity more than Mother Teresa. I met her a number of times. Once I spent a whole day with her. One secret to her success was simple: help the person in front of you. When I visited her mission in Calcutta I felt overwhelmed by the poverty all around us. I asked her how she decides where to start.
I was expecting a long explanation, but instead she just took my arm and walked with me a few steps toward a man lying in the gutter. "You start with the person in front of you," she said simply, and she helped him up and began the thankless job of washing him, and feeding him, and caring for him.
Even when you are a member of Congress, you have to look for opportunity to make a meaningful contribution. In 1984, following reports of massive starvation in Ethiopia I was the first member of Congress to investigate that famine-stricken region. As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I though I had seen hunger before, but I truly was not prepared for what I saw there. It was a nightmare of famine, misery, and death.
Everywhere there were the children. Some were little more than tiny skeletons. I saw them lying in the dirt, too weak to brush off the flies. They stared at you with empty gazes. At one of the relief camps I visited, 100 peopled-mostly children — died in one day.
I never got over what I saw in Ethiopia. On the plane back, decided I would make my life count for people, like those poor, desperate, malnourished children. In the years that followed, I took the opportunity to introduce legislation, to travel, and to bring to the attention of my colleagues and to the world that there is human suffering we can reduce — in short, to make a difference.
This land and country is full of opportunity and it's up to you.
We Americans too often forget just how fortunate we are, and how much others value the opportunities here.
An official with the State Department used to tell this story: A little man came to visit our office at the American consulate in Portugal. He leaned across the desk and said, "Please, mister, could you tell me if there is any possibility that I could get entrance to your wonderful country?"
The official, who had received thousands of such requests roughly replied, "Impossible now. Come back in another 10 years."
The would-be refugee moved toward the door, stopped, turned, and asked with a slight smile, "Morning or afternoon?" He valued the opportunity.
As part of our responsibility, always keep in mind those who are less fortunate. Many in this country do not have support from parents as you did. Others don't even have a permanent roof over their heads, or regular meals. Most of the world's children will never see a graduation ceremony like this. For them, survival is an opportunity they may not have without your help. Sometimes it's enough to be kind to somebody. You know, it is possible to go days — weeks — without anybody ever saying something kind to you or smiling at you. Albert Schweitzer stated, "The purpose of human life is to serve and show compassion and the will to help others."
The world is crying out for caring and leadership. The world is crying out for you. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Remember Mother Teresa, the Wright brothers, and others who have succeeded in making a difference in the world. The opportunities are there, in front of you.
While some of you are perhaps somewhat sad today, feeling that your best years are now behind you, that all the fun is over, I think you will find that the best is yet to come.
In closing, I wish each one of you that full measure of opportunity, justice, kindness and gratification that we, as members of America, are privileged to enjoy.
Take time to think. Thought is the source of power.
Take time to read. It is the fountain of wisdom.
Take time to work. It is the price to the road to success.
Take time to pray. It is the greatest power on earth.
Take time to play. It is the secret to perpetual youth.
Take time to give. It is too short a day to be selfish.
Take time to laugh. It is music to the soul.
Take time to be friendly. It is the road to happiness.
Take time to love and be loved. It is a God-given privilege.
But whatever you do with opportunity — do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. If you do this, it will get your mind off of yourself and on to something more important. Thank you and God bless you all.
Brief Biography - "Lifetime of Service," the title of United States Congressman Tony P. Hall's Commencement Address, is certainly an apt description of his 38 years since graduating from Denison in 1964. His recent appointment by President George W. Bush as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture will enable him to continue fighting against world hunger and working to find solutions to humanitarian issues, causes that he has championed throughout his adult life.
In his new role, Hall will work with several agencies in Rome, including the World Food Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. He will represent the United States as a leading advocate to promote global food security and reduce hunger throughout the world. His role will be to help draw attention to problems of hunger and food supply before they reach the crisis stage and contribute to America's public diplomacy by helping to demonstrate our compassion for people in need.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1942, Hall brought his football prowess as a tailback at Kettering Fairmont High School to Denison and Coach Keith Piper's single wing formation. He set a single-season total offense record in 1962 and was named a Little All-American by the Associated Press and selected as Most Valuable Player by both Denison and the Ohio Athletic Conference in 1963.
Hall joined the Peace Corps and served as a volunteer in Thailand during 1966 and 1967, teaching English as a second language to students during the day and adults in the evening. He was surrounded by poverty and discovered that he wanted to do something for others, rather than only for himself. After returning to Dayton he became a realtor and small businessman, and was elected as a state representative to the Ohio House of Representatives, serving from 1969 to 1972, and then as state senator from 1973 to 1978.
A Democrat, Hall was elected to the U.S. Congress as a Representative from Ohio's Third District in 1978 and has been re-elected every two years since then, becoming its longest-serving member. During his tenure, he has worked actively to improve human rights conditions around the world, especially in the Philippines, East Timor, Paraguay, South Korea, Romania and the former Soviet Union. In 1983 he founded the Congressional Friends of Human Rights Monitors and is one of two House members of its steering committee. He has also served on the House Committee on Rule and is Ranking Minority Member of the Subcommittee on Rules and Organization of the House. He serves as chairman of the House Democratic Task Force on Hunger.
A three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, Congressman Hall has been one of the leading advocates in Congress for hunger relief programs and improving international human rights conditions since being elected as a representative from Ohio's Third District in 1978. He was a founding member of the Select Committee on Hunger and served as its chairman from 1989 until it was abolished in 1993. At that time he went on a 22-day, water-only fast to remind Congress and people around the world about the importance of feeding the hungry.
Congressman Hall founded the Congressional Hunger Center in 1994 which annually trains 20 to 24 participants selected as Mickey Leland-Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellows to become effective leaders in the anti-hunger and poverty movement. Sarah Borron, one of today's Denison graduates and a President's Medalist, has been selected for the program and will begin her training in Washington, D.C., in August. Hall was awarded the 1992 Silver World Food Day Medal from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. He is a recipient of the United States Committee for UNICEF 1995 Children's Legislative Advocate Award, U.S. AID Presidential End Hunger Award, 1992 Oxfam America Partners Award, Bread for the World Distinguished Service Against Hunger Award and the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award.
He and his wife, Janet, who live in Dayton, are the parents of a daughter, Jyl. Their son, Matt, died in 1996 after a four-year battle with leukemia.