THE MINERVA AWARDS
Our world and our country are laboring under the weight of too many people creating too much pollution. Those of you being
honored here today should recognize that your achievement
and your magnificent potential will mean nothing if our world
cannot be saved.
For the last twenty years America has partied, indulging
itself in an orgy of cash and cocaine. This period of awful neglect, a period during which homelessness and AIDS has
become commonplace, was topped recently by a war that most
of us were convinced was necessary. As with all wars though,
the aftereffects have been devastating. A country has been
shelled into the stone age. Millions of displaced people are
cringing in camps. Oily smoke is traveling around the world.
The men and women are home safe and that is good. But
this morning, while billions are being spent to make more
smart bombs, the state of New York has announced its intention to cut education by more than one hundred million
This is happening everywhere and, to me, it is a sad
thing. To me, it is a signal. We must change in America. And I
am counting on the young people gathered here today to help
us do that. We need your hearts and your brains and your
commitment. Most of all, we need your leadership. America
needs you to step forward and become fully engaged in the life
of your country.
I have become fully engaged in the life of my country. I am actively engaged against the forces of ignorance and fear
that make war on animals. It is a difficult and often heart -
I have seen America's Mountain Lions killed only because
they exist, their heads stacked one atop the other as a joke.
I have seen the skeletons of America's Wild Horses; lying
alone on the range, killed only because they exist... or rounded
up and driven down ramps to die in horror at the slaughterer's
hand. Their meat making wealth for those who steal from
When we destroy Mountain Lions and Wild Horses, we
destroy our own country. America lets this happen every day
and it must stop.
But this is only my cause. Your country needs your help
wherever you choose to put it. We need to value out teachers
again. We need to venerate poets. We need to give women a full
roll in the governing of our country. We need to keep the doors
of our libraries open every day and every night. We need to
slow down the growth that is consuming us. We need to stop
having quite so many babies.
We must find a way to unite for change, to mount a common defense of our lives and the lives of our children. If we rise together, the heart of America can be restored. But we must do this soon. The handwriting is on the wall and
it says: "Your time is running our."
I have the highest respect for what the students here have
accomplished and you should be proud.
Do not be afraid. If you want to put off a planned career to
work in a community that needs you, then do it. If you want to
stop being a student for awhile so you can try something you've always dreamed of, then do it. We need dreamers.
Wherever your paths lead try to keep an eye out for what you can do in defense of our irreplaceable and loving earth. The world is desperate for real heroes. And that's what you can be. Good Luck.
Keynote speech to the valedictorians of New York City's public schools
Central Library, New York City, New York, June 4, 1991.