Gov. Martin O'Malley's commencement speech to University of Maryland, College Park graduates

May 22, 2014


President Loh, thank you for your outstanding leadership here of Maryland’s flagship University.

Through some of the toughest economic times, you have led us forward to higher excellence and deeper understanding.

Thank you, Dr. Loh, for your service, and for inviting me to share this happy moment with all of you today.

As I was writing my message for your big day, my young staff warned me of a diabolical new post on for such occasions called:

Commencement Cliché BINGO  –

It arranges no fewer than 24 clichéd graduation phrases on a grid – phrases like  

"Be true to yourself."

"Follow your dreams."

"The future is yours to shape."

And, the indispensible "It is a great honor."

Now, being a modern, collaborative, open-data leader, I would never try stop you from playing Cliché BINGO on your smart-phones.

But you should know that the following words have been very carefully chosen and checked –

So if anyone next to you yells BINGO in the middle of these remarks, know that they are a cheating,...


So, let us commence.

President Loh,  esteemed faculty, members of the Board of Regents, parents, relatives and friends,

It is a great honor…

…to say Congratulations to the 2014 Graduating Class of the University of Maryland College Park!

Today marks the end of a journey for all of you –

and the beginning of a new journey for mankind.

In the classic film in the canon of great American Cinema,

"Back to the Future 2"

We were offered a vision of America in the year 2015 – a future that is just several months from today.

It’s a vision that includes hover-boards, food re-hydrators and flying cars powered by nuclear fusion,

Not to mention, a World Series win by the Cubs.

In our present seats, we can laugh at how little that Hollywood vision matches reality.

It is not our predictions that shape the world; it is our choices --

the choices that you,... our new leaders,... will make.

State of the World

You enter an astonishingly complex world riddled with crises and dysfunctional institutions.

A world of breathtaking social innovation,

A world of scientific discovery and technological advancement -- at a pace never before achieved.

A world rich in contradictions, humbling in its rate of change, jaw dropping in its implications for our future.

Some would have us believe that we inhabit a world of polarities, schisms, and discord.

Some see a future doomed to pull apart, where divisiveness only deepens.

But you see the world in another way:

as a continuous circle of humanity where nothing is foreign.

Where there is only one human yearning the world over -- for prosperity, for security, for freedom.

One circle, broken only by the walls we build between us, and the darkness our compassion has yet to overcome.

The Life of a City 

When I was elected mayor in 1999, my city, Baltimore had become the most violent, most addicted, most abandoned city in America.

At one of our first community meetings in a hard hit neighborhood of East Baltimore, citizens assembled talk to their new Mayor.

To talk about crime and public safety.

There was a tension in the air. A fear about what might be.

A little girl came up to the microphone.

"Mr. Mayor," she said, "my name is Amber, and I am 12 years old.

And because of all the addicted people and drug dealers in my neighborhood,

there are people in the newspaper who call my neighborhood, 'Zombie Land.'

And I want to know if you know they call my neighborhood Zombie Land,…

and I want to know if you’re doing anything about it?"

Her two questions,... are the two essential questions.

Do you know?

Are you doing something about it?

We took action in Baltimore that changed the future of the city.

Many police officers gave their lives to change our city.

Over the next 10 years, Baltimore went on to achieve the biggest reduction in part 1 crime of any major city in America.

None of it was simple or easy; the problems of crime, poverty, and addiction were all complex.

Progress was complicated.

But at the root of the problem, the essential questions that we needed were fairly simple.

A 12 year old girl made it plain as day, in a room full of frustrated adults.

She got in my face. The room fell away. 

The crowd narrowed.

One heart asked of another: do you know, and are you doing something about it.

What I heard was one person speaking simply to another person.

And I have never forgotten that moment.

Ideas vs. Ideology

Humanity is at a portal in history -- another kind of commencement –

A threshold of time requiring a fundamental transformation.

A transformation in understanding our relationship to the world around us; our relationship to the living systems of nature, and to the way we live and work with each other.

In your 21st century world, the way forward is propelled by ideas, not ideologies.

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