What an awesome experience. I was asked a few months ago to deliver commencement remarks at my alma mater's Atlantic Region graduation ceremony. I was thrilled to accept. It was a moment that truly defined labor of love, since I spend a considerable amount of time with clients--organizations, corporations, individuals--helping them find the right message and deliver it well. It was a chore to craft remarks about a school, and a community, that I have such strong affection for, without making the day about me, or about my experiences. The focus of course should be on those matriculating students. Early drafts included mentions of how much I enjoyed attending the same school as my older brother, RJ. Early drafts included mentions of the great friendships I made, and our evolving relationships that I cherish to this day. And early drafts included mentions of the professors whom I found most engaging and influential. But the speech I ultimately delivered began to take shape, and gain momentum, when I spoke on the phone with Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins, Jr., and Trojan Head Football Coach Larry Blakeney. These two men are remarkable gentlemen. It could be said that anyone engaged in higher education--and the athletics that are such a vital outcropping--toils in the permanent things. By which I mean, they educate the individual and they impart upon them life lessons that form the individual. But there are many things about Chancellor Hawkins and Coach Blakeney that set them apart. It was upon that realization, that I let the words and ideas flow onto the page, tinkered with construction and flow, added some contemporary references, and dropped in a quote, from John F. Kennedy, I've long admired.
I was thrilled that the remarks were well received. Dr. Chris Burge, director of the Troy's Atlantic Region, was a most gracious host. She and the other faculty members couldn’t have been more friendly. The ceremony itself was executed without a hitch, a testament to their efforts as well as to those of Les Wright, the site director, whom I’ve enjoyed getting to know these past few months.
What follows below is their introduction of me; and my remarks as prepared. I welcome any and all feedback. One more thing: GO TROJANS!
Andrew Olivastro is a communications and public affairs strategist in Washington, D.C. He is a 1996 graduate of Troy University, where he received a bachelor’s degree with a dual major in journalism and political science. While at Troy he was a quarterback on the Trojan football team and editor-in-chief of The Tropolitan, the university's student newspaper.
Olivastro began his professional career as a newspaper reporter and online journalist. He then served in multiple communications roles at The Heritage Foundation, America's most widely supported think tank. Olivastro next served as the sole speechwriter to Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie in the 2004 election cycle, the first time in 80 years that Republicans won the White House while retaining majorities in the House and Senate.
In 2005, Olivastro accepted an appointment from President George W. Bush to direct speechwriting for U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez; collaborating with the Secretary to craft major public policy addresses delivered around the globe.
He now works at Edelman Public Relations, where he counsels Fortune 500 companies on message development, strategy, and executive positioning.
Olivastro currently serves as chairman of the board of the National Civic Art Society, located on Capitol Hill in Washington where he lives with his wife and two children.
Andrew Olivastro Commencement Remarks
Troy University Atlantic Region • May 22, 2010
As prepared for delivery
Troy University is an exceptional place.
I recognize that the Troy you know is considerably different than the Troy I know. You have earned your degrees here in the shadow of our nation's capitol. A long way from Troy, Alabama—a place where many of you have never set foot.
While it is hard to compete with the dome of the United States Capitol—perhaps the most beautiful and inspirational piece of man-made architecture in the world—I have to tell you, the main campus in Troy is a beautiful place, too. There is an expansive quad which, when you stand in the center, leads in each direction to a different, yet equally venerable, red brick building where classes are held.
But the learning isn't confined to those classrooms—it's everywhere on the 360-acre campus and everywhere throughout the welcoming city of Troy. It is there that Troy first started preparing young men and women to capitalize on every opportunity in their future.
When the Olmsted Brothers designed the original campus in the 1920s; no one could predict that nearly 100 years later, in 2010, Troy would claim 31,000 students around the world, on 60 campuses in 17 states, in 12 countries. It’s a remarkable accomplishment; made all the more so when you consider the uniqueness of Troy.
Troy is different because they prepare their students not simply for a profession, but for life, for the unseen opportunities.
This ethos exists because Troy believes that each individual is special. Troy believes that all of us—as individuals—have unique needs as students and, properly embraced, will develop into graduates who offer unique skills to the world.
This culture of focus on the individual is the result of the high caliber of individuals who are the administrators, the professors, the coaches, and the students themselves. Including all of you. As you selected Troy, Troy also selected you.
Like most things, it starts at the top. Troy's Chancellor Jack Hawkins Junior is a gracious and principled man. Dr. Hawkins is singularly responsible for having the vision that has expanded Troy’s reach. He has overseen a remarkable period of growth—and delivered more than two decades of leadership with distinction.
I can still recall stepping into the Chancellor's office for the first time in the early 1990s and squinting as the hot Alabama sun, pouring in through his windows above the campus quad, reflected, almost blindingly, off his Marine Corps Officer's sword and shield hanging proudly on the wall. Dr. Hawkins was a lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps who was decorated for combat duty in Vietnam.
I am reminded, too, of studying national security strategy with a retired Marine Corps colonel, John Schmidt, who knows not only the policy issues but also what it means to command at all levels from Vietnam, Desert Shield/Storm, Bosnia and Haiti.
Of course, Troy is not a military school. It is, however, a better school because of its more than 50-year relationship with the different military services.
It's not lost on me, and I am certain that it is not lost on you, that in the current debate over a U.S. Supreme Court nominee, one of the main points of contention is her support for keeping military recruiters off the Harvard campus.
Today being a day of celebration I will avoid the direct politics of it all, but to say this: Harvard University would be a better university if they allowed military recruiters on campus. No university in America can claim to be this country's best, it if closes it campus to the best of our country.
The good news about Troy’s exceptionalism is that we are not alone in recognizing it. Last fall, Forbes magazine named Troy University the top public university in Alabama. That is wonderful recognition, it says Troy is doing many things right, and it sends a significant message to the global Troy family.
In fact, when I talked with Chancellor Hawkins earlier this week he told me there are commencement programs forthcoming in Malaysia, China and Vietnam. Chancellor Hawkins also told me a wonderful story about Troy’s first Vietnam commencement. It was in 2008. It was the first time an American university awarded baccalaureate degrees on Vietnamese soil.
Chancellor Hawkins traveled to Vietnam for this special occasion. He told me that when he took the podium his gaze locked on the eyes of an older gentleman in the front of the audience. This gentleman was in uniform, a retired colonel. The uniform was that of the North Vietnamese Army.
At the conclusion of his remarks, this man moved swiftly towards Chancellor Hawkins and embraced him, got his picture with him, and explained how he was there to support and celebrate his great nephew’s graduation from Troy University. Some 40 years earlier, these two men were shooting at one another… but much had changed since that day.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe Troy University is exceptional because it embraces what is exceptional about America. Troy honors the individual. Troy acknowledges the uniqueness of every individual. Troy empowers the individual.
We are gathered today in Northern Virginia, and it was this same sentiment that was literally revolutionary when a Virginian named Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence 234 years ago.
Consider that as you think about the 12 countries where Troy has campuses. Consider the fact that Vietnam is still a communist country. Sure they have embraced some significant economic reforms, but when Troy University enters Vietnam, it brings with it new opportunity for every individual in that country.
Consider China, also still a communist country, where government policy tells you how many children you can have; or what you can and cannot Google on the internet. Troy University in China brings with it recognition of the importance of the individual.
When I accepted the honor of speaking before you, I learned that nearly half of today’s graduates are men and women who have dedicated themselves to the service of our country. Take a moment to remember why you chose this course. For those of us who are not in the military, let us also take a moment to think about service to our country.
In the entire length of the human experience, America’s more than two century existence is but a short time. Yet, America’s birth stands as the singular moment of change in man’s relation to man and the primacy of self-government.
What does it take for self-government to sustain itself? Well educated, responsible, civic-minded citizens: Exactly the sort of men and women that graduate from Troy University.
The United States uniform, for those who wear it, serves as a daily reminder that you have taken an oath to protect America, an exceptional country. The Troy degree, for those who have earned it, hangs on our walls and serves as a daily reminder that there are exceptional universities, too.
As we leave here today, let us remember that the impulse for individual freedom is shared by people around the world. We may be at war in Afghanistan and in Iraq; but we are not at war with Afghanistan, nor with Iraq. The Taliban and the Islamic jihadists are forces of evil that seek to suppress individuals and their God-given freedom. That’s why they hate America.
More than 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy said:
“Conceived in Grecian thought, strengthened by Christian morality, and stamped indelibly into American political philosophy, the right of the individual against the state is the keystone of our Constitution. Each man is free. He is free in thought. He is free in expression. He is free in worship.”
These freedoms are what all of us must protect. To me, that is what Troy teaches, and teaches so well.
That is why, when I talked earlier this week with Trojan Football Head Coach Larry Blakeney and told him I had the honor of speaking here today—before Troy’s 2010 graduating class—he asked that I send his best wishes to all of you.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Coach Blakeney is ranked among the best football coaches in the country. He has led the Troy Trojan program for 20 years—from a Division II competitor, to a Division I bowl champion. And he’s always moving forward. He takes personal pride in his accomplishments on the field; but also counts those moments as a way to enhance the Troy degree even more.
Coach Blakeney and I talked about how Troy’s unique relationship with the military raises the profile of the university, and it gives the entire athletic program a global fan base. Coach Blakeney was effusive in his praise and respect and admiration for the men and women in uniform.
And Coach Blakeney wanted me to convey to you that—because of that relationship, whether you wear the uniform or not, because of Chancellor Hawkins’s leadership—your Troy degree has unique value in the global marketplace.
It is that sentiment that I think is all together fitting for what we celebrate today—and who we celebrate.
America is an exceptional country. Troy is an exceptional university. All of you are exceptional individuals.
Dr. Burge, Dr. Shetterly, Chaplain Johns, faculty, guests, family and friends, please join me in congratulating the Troy University Class of 2010.
God Bless You and God Bless America.
Looking forward to a new year and new decade, I thought about drawing an allusion to a story from the past. Instead I will post it here in full. Specifically, a 1901 fable by Robert Louis Stevenson entitled, "The Four Reformers (alternative link here)."
THE FOUR REFORMERS
FOUR reformers met under a bramble bush. They were all agreed the world must be changed.
"We must abolish property," said one.
"We must abolish marriage," said the second.
"We must abolish God," said the third.
"I wish we could abolish work," said the fourth.
"Do not let us get beyond practical politics," said the first. "The first thing is to reduce men to a common level."
"The first thing," said the second, "is to give freedom to the sexes."
"The first thing," said the third, "is to find out how to do it."
"The first step," said the first, "is to abolish the Bible."
"The first thing," said the second, "is to abolish the laws."
"The first thing," said the third, "is to abolish mankind."
-- Robert Louis Stevenson, 1901
I read earlier today that Sen. Harry Reid committed to bringing a health care bill to the floor of the Senate that contains a public option. This was a bit of a surprise, for those of us watching the Senate numbers game, but not a shock. AEI's Norm Ornstein was spot on when, on the radio this evening as I was driving home from work, he talked about how Reid is facing a very tough re-election battle in his home state of Nevada and had to do this to mollify troublesome, and vocal, liberals. Visions of Tom Daschle in his head, no doubt. I'd be comfortable wagering, however, that his outright support for injecting the government further into the health care marketplace -- coupled with his leadership spotlight -- will pose equal problems for Reid's re-election. Visions of Tom Daschle in my head, absolutely.
In every poll I've seen he is losing or tied with a prospective Republican candidate. There's no way to spin that. When you are the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, and losing your race for re-election, it should give you pause to consider why that is so. I think it can be crystallized in the thinking of the majority party that was shared on this radio program. Apparently the public option was resuscitated when Delaware Sen. Tom Carper offered the idea that the legislation feature a clause allowing states to opt-in. Chuck Schumer, senior senator from New York, instead took that idea and flipped it. Schumer believed that the Senate should pass a national program that allows the states to opt-out.
Thus we are left with this: politicians are ignoring the fact that there is no national clamor for government-run health care, politicians are ignoring that there exists no poll showing majority support for such action, and, still, politicians are forcing it upon the people, requiring individual states act affirmatively to opt-out. They are creating their own sense of inevitability, so they can talk about it being inevitable.
Lace up your running shoes, Harry. Dan Rostenkowski already blazed the trail you're on.
Posted while listening to Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, featuring Cecilia Bartoli | The Ultimate Mozart Album
It's a shame Jason Campbell can't make his second and third reads very well. He seemingly has all the tools to be an effective NFL quarterback. The thinking when he was coming out of Auburn and had experienced at least three offensive coordinators over the course of his college career -- it may have been four -- was that it's hard to be comfortable and deliver in an offense when there is little consistency in formations, phrasing, cadence, and personnel.
Despite starting strong under Jim Zorn's West Coast offense and setting a franchise record for most consecutive passes without an interception -- it appears those scouts may have been too generous. At least, the three draft picks traded to slot him were certainly too generous.
On three-step drops he's generally effective at getting the ball away and throwing it to the right spot. Yet, when you get down in these games, as the Redskins so often do, you can't stretch the field on three-step drops.
As I write the Eagles hold a 27-10 lead over Campbell's Redskins and the fourth quarter has just begun.
Campbell just got sacked.
Not a good night for Campbell. And not a good night for Redskins Head Coach Jim Zorn. Which is altogether too bad as I have always liked Zorn.
When I was in high school my father brought home a Jim Zorn instructional video for my older brother, RJ, and I. We watched it 15-20 times. We watched it a handfull of times, then went out to the yard to try some of his recommended footwork on various drop-backs, shorts rolls, roll-out sprints, scrambling techniques, and more. Then we would go in, watch again, and go through a few more simulated exercises. We had contests to see who could throw the furthest left-handed, like Zorn. Left or right handed, there may be no better feeling than snapping the wrist, feeling the laces tear away, and sending a perfect spiral into the air as your index finger points to the earth. In addition to bring able to toss it a country mile, RJ still throws the tightest spiral I've seen - and caught in stride.
It was a great video. (Thanks, Dad!) Sadly I can't find it online, otherwise I would treat you, the reader, to a link. Suffice it to say, it was filmed, apparently, when a coif of hair -- a la Jack Tripper trying but failing to achieve a mullet -- on Zorn was trumped only by the blond curly mop of his favorite target, Steve Largent.
I think Zorn did a good job in Seatlle with Matthew Hasselbeck; it's a shame he isn't able to fully focus on Campbell. It's a shame, too, that Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato have no idea what they are doing. But that's an old song.
Watch here to see how Zorn gained lots of yardage, sideline to sideline, to buy time and whip that left-handed toss -- football's equivalent of Wil Clark's baseball swing -- in Largent's direction. Zorn did so enough times to help Largent, upon retirement, make it to the Hall of Fame with more catches, more yards and more TDs than any receiver in NFL history.
Zorn should suit up.
Posted while listening to The Avett Brothers' new release | I and Love and You
“I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need. I wished to come here and say that I am a man who does not exist for others. It had to be said. The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing.
“I wished to come here and say that the integrity of a man’s creative work is of greater importance than any charitable endeavor. Those of you who do not understand this are the men who’re destroying the world. I wished to come here and state my terms. I do not care to exist on any others."
-- Howard Roark, The Fountainhead