The life that we lead is built upon a series of choices. We choose to be the person that we become. We choose to live the life that we lead. We choose to love the person that we love and we choose the career that will finance our dreams. There are some that say that life is a game of chance, that despite your greatest efforts your destiny lies in the hands of some mystical power, a god, the universe. And still others believe that our existence and our successes are built upon the strategies of a game, that we are capable of playing a masterful round of chess with our every step in life. I believe that life is what you make of it and not simply what is dealt before you.
The history of our world is built upon the backs of men and women who refused to accept the destiny that was placed before them. Our world has been shaped and molded by those that refused to participate in the maintenance of the status quo. By souls who found within them the character to advance this race called humanity. We stand here today because of the constant efforts of men like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was named after the German priest and theologian, Martin Luther who boldly nailed his grievances upon the door of the chapel of Wittenburg, setting the stage for religious freedoms. We are here because of the selfless acts of brave men and women like Harriet Tubman, who risked her life in the midnight hours escorting slaves, human beings to freedom, like Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected representative in American history who was murdered because of his character, like William Wilberforce, who fought mightily for the abolition of slavery in the British empire, like Mahatma Gandhi, who did not fight but rather stood as a solemn witness against injustice, peace was his message. We stand here today because of women like Helen Keller, who ignored the disadvantages that she was dealt and stood at the forefront of the women’s suffrage movement, like Eleanor Roosevelt who championed the inalienable human rights of all mankind, and believed in the power of each human child to dream their beautiful dreams.
The great Reverend Doctor said that “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Our character is the measure by which we should be judged. There is still much work to be done.
We live today in nation that was founded upon the best ideals of equality at the time. I believe that our founders knew that their work was not the culmination of human excellence but rather the gateway that would lead us to a path of constant amelioration and the advancement of humanity. Their efforts were but a first step. Each advancement of humanity has been but another step in the right direction, a commentary on the character of the human race.
I believe that that Dr. King’s dream is still alive stirs within the hearts and minds of our great generation. But dreams shall remain nothing more than reverie without the constant vigilance and effort of the dreamer to bring to reality all that he or she holds dear. I believe Human Rights and equality, the dignity of our species, is not a destination. We cannot arrive at justice or peace. There is no place called perfection. There is no mountain called moral rightness. No building called compassion, No address along the great boulevard of benevolence. This thing called good, called character, called right. It is a journey that demands the heart of every man and woman. Human Rights and Equality might visit us for a brief moment but there is constant work to be done. And it is our choices that will ultimately dictate the true content of our character.
It is our character and the small and simple choices that we make each and every day that we, our generation, will continue to change this world and advance our progression along this majestic path of equality. We must rise against injustice and like Rosa Parks sit at the front of that bus despite the mandates the might otherwise prohibit it. We must boldly stand in the face of fear and like the men and women who lost their lives on Tiananmen Square stand sure in our struggle for equality. We must slowly and steadily chip away the walls the divide us and seek unity like those that brought down the Berlin Wall. We must hold the hands of our brothers and sisters regardless of their outward traits and walk with them along the course of right. I believe that this change will begin not in the halls of Congress or the monuments of democracy but rather in our homes, our classrooms, our churches and in our simple actions. This change comes from within.
I believe that we have within us the determination to choose action over acquiescence. I believe that our generation will see far beyond the labels of affirmative action. I believe that one day soon two men who love each other will stand on these very steps a vow their heartfelt love for one another in marriage. I believe that one day soon that the walls that line our borders will be torn down and we will refuse to discriminate based upon immigration status. I believe that one day soon the women that brought life to each and every one of us will be respected enough to receive equal pay and benefits. I believe that our children will show us a greater path to justice and we will turn to the innocence of youth as our guide along our journey toward greatness. I believe that one day soon all nations will embrace the linguistic diversity that enriches our world and American and Chinese, Rwandan and Indonesian, Brazilian and Tahitian will speak together without language barriers. I believe in the power of our great human race to do good, to be greater than we are.
I believe that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamt of the choices we would make to lift us up out of the dredges of our existence. He dreamt of a world that would continually move toward something better and change to become bolder than before. His dream was a call to action not a destination. We have so far yet to go. But I believe that this generation will not stand idly by and allow the momentum of these great men and women to be lost. I believe that our generation will do its part and change this world. I believe that as we turn outward to serve all mankind we will find within us the character to be that change we long to see in this world.
So ladies and gentlemen and variations thereupon, we must take head, and rise up for that call to action. Live that you might be judged NOT by the color of your skin, the language you might speak, your class, your caste, your gender or gender-identity, your religion, your nationality, your intellectual or physical disability, your creed your tribe, your sexual orientation, your age, your family status, your access to education, your employment or lack thereof. Choose to live that you might not judge at all. Live that you might be judged solely by the content of your character.