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A Pultizer Prize-Winner Speaks of Terrorism, Life After College and Choosing Wisely

Journalist David Halberstam, shown here on one of the giant-screen Jumbotrons placed at the edges of Alumni Park, was the featured speaker at USC’s 119th commencement.

Photo by Irene Fertik

Here are excerpts from the commencement speech of David Halberstam:

FOR THOSE OF YOU who have not exactly prospered academically, let me give you a bit of good news – you are being addressed by someone who was in the bottom half of his class at college. So there is life after college, and I’m proof of it.

Today I know, in addition to the softness of the economy, that your own confidence in your future is clouded slightly by the fact that you graduate into a dramatically changed America, one which has been challenged by the cruelest kind of terrorism, and which is in a kind of suspended state between war and peace, and where much of our focus is now in trying to discover potential terrorist cells, and where so much of our normal agenda has been brushed aside.

You are at the threshold of one of the most important choices that most of you will make in your lives, the choice of your careers.

THIS IS A CRITICAL decision for you. For other than the choice of a lifetime partner, nothing determines happiness so much as choosing the right kind of work. It is a choice about what’s good for you, not what’s good for others whom you greatly respect, your parents, an admired professor, your friends, a significant other, whom you suspect may be dazzled by a greater or loftier choice of profession. The choice is not about what makes them happy, but about what makes you happy.

So try and use your lives wisely, and try and make choices – even in your professional lives – that are of the heart. Do not be too readily caught in the material snare of this society. If you want to be a botanist, poet, actor, teacher or nurse, if that’s what your heart tells you to do, don’t go to law school or some other graduate school on the theory that it’s a great ticket, and that it will get you to a higher level in the society, that you’ll make some money for a while, and then you can go on and do the things that you really wanted to do in the first place. It doesn’t work that way.

LET ME LEAVE YOU with a few last words. In all things in life, choose your conscience and trust your instincts and lead your lives without regrets. It’s simply easier that way. I mention that because life, under the best circumstances, even if you’re lucky, as I have been, to choose the right profession, is very hard. First you have to choose the right profession – and then you have to work very hard for the rest of your lives to sustain the thing you happen to love. As the noted philosopher, basketball player and sports commentator Julius Erving, Dr. J, once said, “Being a professional is doing the things you love to do on the days when you don’t feel like doing them.”

God bless – enjoy the richness of your lives. Thank you very much.

For the full text of David Halberstam’s speech, go to: uscnews.usc.edu/usctoday

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