All Hail the Common Man


by Mike Ramey

A New Visions Commentary paper published May 1999 by The National Center
for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E., Washington, DC 20002, 202/543-4110, Fax 202/543-5975, E-Mail [email protected], Web
http://www.nationalcenter.org. Reprints permitted provided source
is credited.


I have often wondered why commencement speakers are usually someone rich and famous. It seems sad that the day of hearing parting words from a minister, elected official or other worthy speaker has almost disappeared. In the modern view, a graduation ceremony is not complete unless a "name" speaker is on the platform.

The "politically correct" Hollywood crowd is anxious to tell you how you should face life. But they can't cross the street without their lawyers, accountants, psychics and bodyguards in tow. They do not revere a common man who sacrifices, encourages and often works several jobs so his children can attend good schools. In short, the Hollywood crowd - the pornographic writers, feminists, well-paid slackers and troublemakers - have little respect for parents, ministers, teachers or even Jesus Christ and the Bible.

I'd like to see the day come when a parent makes the commencement speech. Being a parent myself, here is what I might say:

Good afternoon, future common men and women. As you sit before me in cap and gown, ready to charge out and take your place in society, remember these simple words from a simple man - there is no sin in being common.

Common men and women are the ones who made the sacrifices that put you here. We are the ones who pay the taxes, elect the leaders, pave the roads and clear the way for you to dream about your futures.

We are cops on the beat, reporters in the newsrooms, ministers in the churches, housewives in the home and single parents working double-shifts to keep your behinds clothed and bellies full and who dry your tears when you skin your knees. There are many in Hollywood who would like us to shut up so they can raise you, but we aren't going away.

In fact, if you are truly blessed, you will eventually become one of OUR ranks, raising your children as we have been blessed to raise you - in fear of God, in love of country and knowing that what you do makes a difference.

Your dreams are no different from other graduates who have come before you, including myself. On my way to my dreams, I discovered some remarkable things that I'd like to share with you. The first thing I discovered is that God does exist, and His dreams for me through His Son Jesus Christ are a lot bigger than I could ever dream for myself.

The second thing is that your degree is merely a downpayment on life. You will be running into a lot of us common folk. Heed what we say and you will be able to realize your goals. A good name as a common man is better than a bad name as a public superstar.

Finally, I discovered joy in being content with commonness. Not everyone will make it to Hollywood, the NBA, the NAACP, Congress or a Fortune 500 company. The highest level one may reach is simply to be called "Daddy" or "Mommy." There is no shame in exchanging a degree for a wedding ring and a career as a stay-at-home mom. There is no shame in giving a wedding ring, heading off to work every day and coming home to a loving spouse. And there is no shame in being welcomed into a God-fearing church and being prayed for by other common people.

When all is said and done, it's not the number of trophies on the wall or the size your bank account that determines your true worth as much as your ability to keep short accounts. Your worth will be determined by your ability to forgive and forget those who have wronged you, to get up when knocked down or to choose to make a little less honestly instead of a fortune by dishonest means.

Some of you are probably scratching your heads, puffing your chests and thinking: "I'll NEVER be common!" After the hoopla has worn off and you are headed out the door, however, ask your former teachers why they chose to stay at school. Almost every one will more than likely tell you there is no shame in being common because, in commonness, they helped you to become, discover and take pride in yourself.

Now go out there and be the best you can be. Society needs you now more than ever. And, at the risk of offending someone, may God richly bless your efforts.

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(Mike Ramey, a member of the National Advisory Council of the African-American leadership network Project 21, is a minister, teacher and columnist in Indianapolis, Indiana.)


Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.


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