Monday, May 22, 2006

Congressman Ford Gets Standing Ovation At Elizabethton Graduation

Although problems with his chartered plane caused him to be an hour late, and even though he was a Democratic candidate speaking at a high school commencement in an overwhelmingly Republican district, Rep. Harold Ford Jr. received praise and a standing ovation following his speech at Elizabethton High School on Saturday morning.

Ford has served five terms as representative from the 9th Congressional District, which is comprised mostly of the city of Memphis. He is running in the Democratic primary to succeed Bill Frist in the U.S. Senate.

Several times during Saturday's speech Ford told the graduates "you are more blessed and have more freedoms than any other generation. Not one of you should feel shackled or held back by what has happened before."

Ford won points with the graduates by quoting from the two members of the class who had spoken before him.

Eden Treadway, the senior class president, and Erin Rogers, the student council president, had given senior remarks just before Ford spoke. Ford took notes as the class leaders spoke, then wove their statements into his own speech.

"You are an impressive class and those who spoke before me basically said it all," Ford said. "This is a new beginning, new challenges, new opportunities in your life."

Ford said he was struck by Treadway's statement that she was in the eighth grade when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks happened. He remembered that he was in the Capitol dining room when he got the word.

"It is amazing how young you were," Ford said.

Since then, Ford said he has been to Iraq and Afghanistan four times and is preparing for another trip in a few weeks.

While there have been many disappointments, Ford told the class that he feels encouraged by the progress being made in those nations.

"We thought the idea of democracy and freedom would just sweep over that part of the world ... That didn't happen," he said.

Ford said the leaders in Iraq have many differences that divide them. There, differences in religion between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and different ethnicity between Arabs and Kurds are dividing factors.

"The Iraqis don't even view themselves as Iraqis first," Ford said.

In spite of these difficulties, Ford said that was one challenge the Class of 2006 must face.

"You have got to help spread (freedom and democracy) across the region, the Middle East, Asia and Africa," Ford said. "Your security depends on it."

Ford said the war on terror is the first in history in which one of the combatants is paying the cost of the war for both sides. He said Americans are paying for their side through higher taxes.

He said Americans are also financing the enemy by paying higher fuel prices. "You can't win a war if you pay the costs of both sides," Ford said.

Ford concluded his remarks by offering the class three pieces of advice.

First, he said, "don't allow anyone to tell you your dreams are too imaginative or not possible."

Ford told the class the story of Fred Smith from Memphis, who wrote a term paper in college in which he described a business which offered overnight package service. Ford said the professor told Smith the idea was not possible. Smith was undeterred and went on to found Federal Express.

Second, Ford told the class not to let what happened in the past affect the future. He quoted Babe Ruth, who said the home runs he hit in yesterday's game would not win tomorrow's game.

Third, Ford reminded the students that America remains a shining example to the rest of the world. He then told them that the nation will reach a new crossroads during their lifetime and they must choose whether to do the hard things that were necessary to move forward, or to shirk and avoid those difficulties.

"At no time in our country's past have we shirked from the hard things," Ford said.

"Your job is to do the hard stuff. The easy stuff has already been done."

Ford said their task is being made even harder because the current generation is piling up a huge national debt that they will inherit.

"You have to live with the consequences of our debts, but you have been given the tools and the education to accomplish it."

Source: The Johnson City Press