[Congressional Record Volume 140, Number 63 (Thursday, May 19, 1994)]
[Page S]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]

[Congressional Record: May 19, 1994]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]


  Mr. DOLE. There is no doubt about the fact that Colin Powell--as I 
have just indicated in commenting on the Brown decision--is one of 
America's most respected public figures. His record of service to his 
country, his patriotism, and his character make him a role model for 
all young Americans.
  This past Saturday, General Powell delivered an eloquent commencement 
speech at Howard University here in Washington, DC. His speech speaks 
to many of the complex challenges of our time, and I recommend it 
highly to all of my colleagues and anybody else who might have an 
interest in what I think was one of the outstanding speeches of our 
  I ask unanimous consent that the text of General Powell's entire 
speech be printed in the Congressional Record.
  There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in 
the Record, as follows:

               Commencement Address at Howard University

                       (By Gen. Colin L. Powell)

       Thank you for your very warm reception.
       Mr. President, Mr. Chairman, members of the board of 
     trustees, fellow honorees, alumni, faculty members, family 
     members, the great Howard Class of 1994.
       I am so pleased to be with you on this very beautiful 
     spring morning. I am deeply honored to be the recipient of an 
     honorary degree, alongside two gentlemen as distinguished as 
     Dr. Cheek and Ambassador Annenberg. For that, I thank the 
     university and the board of trustees.
       Let me also take this opportunity to extend my thanks to 
     President and Mrs. Jennifer for their service to Howard 
     University and to wish them every success at the University 
     of Texas as they begin a new phase in their life of service 
     to American youth. I also congratulate Dr. Ladner on her 
     elevation to acting president.
       I am especially pleased to be the commencement speaker for 
     the class of 1994. I have wanted to be the commencement 
     speaker for a number of years and this is my lucky year.
       Because you know, these days you get a lot of attention 
     being a speaker at Howard University.
       Is Connie Chung here today so I can get on her ``Eye to 
     Eye'' television show.
       The real challenge in being a commencement speaker is 
     figuring out how long to speak.
       The graduating students want a short speech, 5-6 minutes 
     and let's get it over. They are not going to remember who 
     their commencement speaker was anyway. P-O-W-E-L-L.
       Parents are another matter, arrayed in all their finery 
     they have waited a long time for this day, some not sure it 
     would every come, and they want it to last. So go on and talk 
     for two or three hours. We brought our lunch and want our 
     money's worth.
       The faculty member who suggested the speaker hopes the 
     speech will be long enough to be respectable, but not so long 
     that he has to take leave for a few weeks beginning Monday.
       So the poor speaker is left figuring out what to do. My 
     simple rule is to respond to audience reaction. If you are 
     appreciative and applaud a lot early on, you get a nice short 
     speech. If you make me work for it, we're liable to be here a 
     long time.
       You know, the controversy over Howard's speaking policy has 
     its positive side. It has caused the university to go through 
     a process of self-examination, which is always a healthy 
     thing to do.
       Since many people have been giving advice about how to 
     handle this matter, I though I might as well too.
       First, I believe with all my heart that Howard must 
     continue to serve as an institution of learning excellence 
     where freedom of speech is strongly encouraged and rigorously 
       That is at the very essence of a great university and 
     Howard is a great university.
       And freedom of speech means permitting the widest range of 
     views to be presented for debate, however controversial those 
     views may be.
       The first amendment right of free speech is intended to 
     protect the controversial and even outrageous word, and not 
     just comforting platitudes, too mundane to need protection.
       Some say that by hosting controversial speakers who shock 
     our sensibilities Howard is in some way promoting or 
     endorsing their message. Not at all. Howard has helped put 
     their message in perspective while protecting their right to 
     be heard. So that the message can be exposed to the full 
     light of day.
       I have every confidence in the ability of the 
     administration, the faculty and the students of Howard to 
     determine who should speak on this campus. No outside help 
     needed, thank you.
       I also have complete confidence in the students of Howard 
     to make informed, educated judgments about what they hear.
       But for this freedom to hear all views, you bear a burden 
     to sort out wisdom from foolishness.
       There is great wisdom in the message of self-reliance, of 
     education, of hard work, and of the need to raise strong 
       There is utter foolishness, evil and danger in the message 
     of hatred, or of condoning violence, however cleverly the 
     message is packaged or entertainingly it is presented.
       We must find nothing to stand up and cheer about or applaud 
     in a message of racial or ethnic hatred.
       I was at the inauguration of President Mandela in South 
     Africa earlier this week. You were there too by television 
     and watched that remarkable event.
       Together, we saw what can happen when people stop hating 
     and begin reconciling.
       De Klerk the jailer became de Klerk the liberator and 
     Mandela the prisoner became Mandela the president.
       Twenty-seven years of imprisonment did not embitter Nelson 
     Mandela. He invited his three jail keepers to the ceremony.
       He used his liberation to work with his former tormentors 
     to create a new South Africa and to eliminate the curse of 
     apartheid from the face of the Earth. What a glorious 
     example! What a glorious day it was!
       Last week you also saw Prime Minister Rabin and PLO 
     Chairman Arafat sign another agreement on their still 
     difficult, long road to peace, trying to end hundreds of 
     years of hatred and two generations of violence. Palestinian 
     authorities have now begun entering Gaza and Jericho.
       In these two historic events, intractable enemies of the 
     past have shown how you can join hands to create a force of 
     moral authority more powerful than any army and which can 
     change the world.
       Although there are still places of darkness in the world 
     where the light of reconciliation has not penetrated, these 
     two beacons of hope show what can be done when men and women 
     of good will work together for peace and for progress.
       There is a message in these two historic events for us 
     assembled here today. As the world goes forward, we cannot 
     start going backward.
       African-Americans have come too far and we have too far yet 
     to go to take a detour into the swamp of hatred.
       We, as a people who have suffered so much from the hatred 
     of others, must not now show tolerance for any movement or 
     philosophy that has at its core the hatred of Jews or of 
     anyone else.
       Our future lies in the philosophy of love and understanding 
     and caring and building. Not of hatred and tearing down.
       We know that. We must stand up for it and speak up for it!
       We must not be silent if we would live up to the legacy of 
     those who have gone before us from this campus.
       I have no doubt that this controversy will pass and Howard 
     University will emerge even stronger, even more than ever a 
     symbol of hope, of promise and of excellence.
       That is Howard's destiny!
       Ambassador Annenberg, one of your honorees today, is a dear 
     friend of mine and is one of America's leading businessmen 
     and greatest philanthropists.
       You have heard of his recent contributions to American 
     education and his generous gift to Howard.
       A few years ago I told Mr. Annenberg about a project I was 
     involved in to build a memorial to the Buffalo Soldiers, 
     those brave black cavalrymen of the West whose valor had long 
     gone unrecognized.
       Ambassador Annenberg responded immediately and with his 
     help the Memorial now stands proudly at Fort Leavenworth, 
       The Buffalo Soldiers were formed in 1867, at the same time 
     as Howard University. It is even said that your mascot, the 
     bison, came from the bison, or buffalo, soldiers.
       Both Howard and the Buffalo Soldiers owe their early 
     success to the dedication and faith of white military 
     officers who served in the Civil War.
       In Howard's case, of course, it was your namesake, Major 
     General Oliver Howard.
       For the 10th cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, it was Colonel 
     Benjamin Grierson who formed and commanded that regiment for 
     almost 25 years. And he fought that entire time to achieve 
     equal status for his black comrades.
       Together, Howard University and the Buffalo Soldiers showed 
     what black Americans were capable of when given the education 
     and opportunity; and when shown respect and when accorded 
       I am a direct descendent of those Buffalo Soldiers, of the 
     Tuskegee airmen; and of the Navy's golden thirteen, the 
     Montfort Point Marines, and all the black men and women who 
     served this Nation in uniform for over 300 years.
       All of whom served in their time and in their way and with 
     whatever opportunity existed then to break down the walls of 
     discrimination and racism to make the path easier for those 
     of us who came after them.
       I climbed on their backs and stood on their shoulders to 
     reach the top of my chosen profession to become chairman of 
     the American JCS.
       I will never forget my debt to them and to the many white 
     ``Colonel Greirsons'' and ``General Howards'' who helped me 
     over the 35 years of my life as a soldier.
       They would say to me now, ``Well done, and now let others 
     climb up on your shoulders.''
       Howard's ``Buffalo soldiers'' did the same thing and on 
     their shoulders now stand governors and mayors and 
     Congressmen and generals and doctors and artists and writers 
     and teachers and leaders in every segment of American 
       And they did it for the class of 1994. So that you can now 
     continue climbing to reach the top of the mountain; while 
     reaching down and back to help those less fortunate.
       You face `great expectations.' Much has been given to you 
     and much is expected from you.
       You have been given a quality education, presented by a 
     distinguished faculty who sit here today in pride of you.
       You have inquiring minds and strong bodies given to you by 
     God and by your parents; who sit behind you and pass on to 
     you today their still unrealized dreams and ambitions.
       You have been given citizenship in a country like none 
     other on Earth; with opportunities available to you like 
     nowhere else on Earth; beyond anything available to me when I 
     sat in a place similar to this 36 years ago.
       What will be asked of you is hard work. Nothing will be 
     handed to you. You are entering a life of continuous study 
     and struggle to achieve your goals.
       A life of searching to find that which you do well and love 
     doing. Never stop seeking.
       I want you to have faith in yourselves. I want you to 
     believe to the depth of your soul that you can accomplish any 
     task that you set your mind and energy to.
       I want you to be proud of your heritage. Study your 
     origins. Teach your children racial pride and draw strength 
     and inspiration from the cultures of our forbearers.
       Not as a way of drawing back from American society and its 
     European roots.
       But as a way of showing that there are other roots as well. 
     African and Caribbean roots that are also a source of 
     nourishment for the American family tree.
       To show that African-Americans are more than a product of 
     our slave experience.
       To show that our varied backgrounds are as rich as that of 
     any other American; not better or greater, but every bit as 
       Our black heritage must be a foundation stone we can build 
     on, not a place to withdraw into.
       I want you to fight racism. But remember, as Doctor King 
     and Doctor Mandela have taught us, racism is a disease of the 
     racist. Never let it become yours. White South Africans were 
     cured of the outward symptoms of this disease by President 
     Mandela's inauguration, just as surely as black South 
     Africans were liberated from apartheid.
       Racism is a disease you can help cure here by standing up 
     for your rights and by your commitment to excellence and to 
       By being ready to take advantage of your rights and the 
     opportunities that will come from those rights.
       Never let the dying hand of racism rest on your shoulder, 
     weighing you down. Let racism always be someone else's burden 
     to carry.
       As you seek your way in the world, never fail to find a way 
     to serve your community. Use your education and your success 
     in life to help those still trapped in cycles of poverty and 
       Above all, never lose faith in America. Its faults are 
     yours to fix, not to curse.
       America is a family. There may be differences and disputes 
     in the family but we must not allow the family to be broken 
     into warring factions.
       From the diversity of our people, let us draw strength and 
     not cause weakness.
       Believe in America with all your heart and soul and mind. 
     It remains the `last best hope of Earth.'
       You are its inheritors and its future is today placed in 
     your hands.
       Go forth from this place today inspired by those who went 
     before you. Go forth with the love of your families and the 
     blessings of your teachers.
       Go forth to make this a better country and society. 
     Prosper, raise strong families, remembering that all you will 
     leave behind is your good works and your children.
       Go forth with my humble congratulations.
       And let your dreams be your only limitations. Now and 
       Thank you and God bless you.
       Have a great life!