The Work of Peace
The following are excerpts from Walter Cronkite’s address to the Pomona
College Class of 2004.
Quite some years ago, I gave a commencement address at Brandeis
University. I thought it was quite good. Matter of fact, I thought it
was splendid. But very few others seemed to agree. I got a letter
afterwards from one of the distinguished alums there who said he was
rather disappointed in my speech—that I had been far too pessimistic.
... I analyzed the situation, and I came to the same decision. I could
not have given them a rousing pep talk; I could only give them the truth
as I saw it, at that moment.
The speech was given in the most turbulent decade certainly in our 20th
century—and very possibly one of the most turbulent in the whole history
of our country. It was the 1960s. ...
Well, here we are at Pomona, almost a half century later. And as we look
around the world into which you folks will be moving so shortly, I can’t
really say things look much brighter.
We are plagued with the Iraq war, a possibility of an improving
economy—but still a tragically large number of unemployed and
underemployed—and an environmental crisis that literally threatens our
planet. Here at home, we have a collapsing infrastructure of failing
bridges, failing dams, a highway system that needs immediate attention.
And worst of all, an inadequate educational system. ... And all of this
as we face a national deficit that will hobble us through your
generation—and through your children’s generation and very possibly, so
desperate is it, that it may follow us through your grandchildren’s
period of years.
We can only hope that there will be a considerable improvement. Where it
will come from, I cannot attest to. We have an administration in
Washington that has brought on this condition, and we have a Democratic
candidate presumptive who so far has proposed few remedies that offer
any specifics that, to this observer, at least, promise the necessary
new deal in Washington.
On the most critical issue, for instance, surely a Democratic brain
trust could come up with a peace plan for Iraq, as difficult as we know
that is ... But the Kerry camp may well have been buffaloed by a
repeated pledge that comes from the White House—that we won’t “cut and
run” from Iraq. We all, and that includes this speaker, double up our
fists and say “Right on, right on!” Naturally, we do. We don’t want to
be seen as a nation of cowards, abandoning the fight we have started
when the going gets tough. But let’s examine the proposition more
closely. Nobody has seriously proposed that we “cut and run.” That is
purely a jingoistic slogan of an administration intent upon playing the
patriotic card to camouflage its lack of a plan to extricate us from its
Is it possible that the “cut-and-run” stigma has so intimidated the
Democratic candidate that he can’t muster the courage to acknowledge
that we must leave Iraq and to offer a plan to expedite the departure
with honor? Is it possible? If that is a sound analysis, the nation can
only hope that Senator Kerry soon regains his political courage and
offers the electorate an alternative to the administration’s failed Iraq
So, with all these problems, am I supposed to stand up here today—proud
as I am—and give you a message of unqualified hope for our immediate
future? I’m sorry, but that would be outright dishonest. However, let me
now render a bit of that inspirational message that is expected of
All those problems I enumerated before can be solved, or at least
mitigated a great deal, by an enlightened population and courageous
leadership. You—this class of ’04—are particularly qualified by the
education you have received here, to provide both.
Almost certainly the most imminent danger that we face is the rising
threat of terrorism—this incredible wild warfare that we never
anticipated and is now heavily upon us. Military defense is essential,
of course, but equally, or perhaps more important is the job of removing
the source of the terrorists’ increasing strength. That source is the
envy and the bitterness that the deprived peoples of the world hold for
the richer nations, of which we of course are the foremost. ...
The challenge is to bring hope to the world’s depressed people and thus
diminish this source of their unrest. The soldiers in this great
campaign to achieve a lasting peace will be those of your generation.
All of you, certainly, have been thinking long and hard of your future
careers. Many of you, of course, will go on to advanced degrees in law,
medicine, business, and I certainly hope education as well. It is my
conviction that you can have both—a period of rewarding public service
and a highly successful professional career. In fact, I think the odds
are high that you can gain immensely by participating in the campaign
for peace—an experience that will profit you handsomely in the
work-a-day world. Of course, the glory is not in financial gain but in
playing an important role in history, which you will be doing.
Regardless of your active participation by your informed citizenship,
you’ll be among those making a major contribution toward achieving what
realists would say is impossible—a permanent peace among the peoples of
our planet. ...
Success in that noble objective will depend on those of your generation
who have had the opportunity of an education that equips you to take a
leading role in our future—a role that you may begin, and possibly
continue, in the public service of your country. And that could include
elective office. The biographies of our future leaders may well include
the notation, “graduated from Pomona College, 2004.”