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Ellison's UMM address stresses generosity, inclusion

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison told University of Minnesota, Morris 2008 graduates that they need to be -- and have the potential to be -- the leaders in the new politics of generosity and inclusion.

Ellison delivered the Graduation Address to a packed UMM Campus Mall on a windy Saturday afternoon.

UMM conferred diplomas on 356 graduates on a day when many of them had to hang on to their caps and smooth down gowns that billowed to their waists.

In addition to musical selections from the UMM Symphonic Winds, the UMM Concert Choir and the Treble Makers, the graduates and audience heard remarks from UMM Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson, University of Minnesota Regent Maureen Cisneros, U of M Senior Vice President Robert Jones, and 2008 UMM graduate Alex Carlson, the recipient of the Curtis H. Larson Award.

Cisneros made light of the blustery conditions, saying that given UMM's reputation in alternative energy research, Saturday was "a good wind energy day."

Carlson gave a humorous address, and he noted that "the passion UMM students have for their work is contagious."

Carlson said that in keeping with his recent role in the UMM production of "Seussical," he would end his address with a quote from Dr. Seuss's poem, "Oh, the Places You'll Go!":


Today is your day.

You're off to Great Places!

You're off and away!

You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes

You can steer yourself

any direction you choose.

You're on your own. And you know what you know.

And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go."

Ellison spoke of a teetering economy and how life in America has become extremely difficult for most of the working class. He talked of the injustice of many millions living without health care -- which he said "should be a right for all Americans" -- and that almost as many people live below the poverty line.

Ellison said he believed in markets and that the graduates should, too. But wages have remained stagnant for dozens of years while productivity has increased markedly. No longer can the leaders of companies take large sums of money for profit while workers scrape by with meager raises.

"We must slice the economic cake for working people in America differently in the future."

Ellison told the story of being in Haiti the day before Commencement and seeing rioting over food, and that "the forces that brought food riots to Haiti are at work all over the world."

He likened speaking before them as he being a worker coming before a boss -- the graduates. He encouraged a new entrepreneurial commitment and "new politics" rooted in generosity and inclusion."

Ellison spoke of the biblical story of Jesus distributing loaves and fishes to a throng after his followers told him they didn't believe there was enough food for them all. Ellison said he couldn't speculate on how that was possible, but it's a circumstance that should resonate with the graduates.

"There was enough then, there is enough now," he said. "There is enough for blacks, whites, Asians and Latinos. There is enough for the straight and the gay. There is enough for Americans born here and for our new American friends who are just arriving. We don't have to throw anyone off the island or under the bus. There is enough."

Early in his speech, Ellison lauded the graduates and remaining students for work that is making a difference now, not just gaining the potential to make a difference in the future. He said he would like to bring his fellow Congressman to Morris and UMM to see it for themselves.

"They could be with the people who are not only the future but who right now are carving out the technological and innovative world we are living in," he said. "You're not the future, you are the present, and proving it, day in, day out, out in Morris."

At the end of his address, Ellison lamented the notion that students educating themselves is too often seen as an individual pursuit meant only for the well-being of the student. In fact, he said, all society benefits from the gains their education makes possible. To that end, the country needs to strive to make education more accessible and affordable.

"I look forward to when you don't have to spend four years in college and 40 years paying all the money back," Ellison said. "It's wrong. ... We need a greater public commitment to education. That's the politics of generosity."