A Moment of Great Opportunity

"To the graduates of 2008, I would say to you that you are leaving college at a momentous moment in American history - a moment of enormous challenge but, in my view, a moment of great opportunity," Senator Bernie Sanders told the Castleton College commencement ceremony on Saturday. "Several national polls came out recently telling us what most of us already know. And that is that by the largest numbers ever recorded, people think our country is moving in the wrong direction in almost every ar

"To the graduates of 2008, I would say to you that you are leaving college at a momentous moment in American history - a moment of enormous challenge but, in my view, a moment of great opportunity.

"Several national polls came out recently telling us what most of us already know. And that is that by the largest numbers ever recorded, people think our country is moving in the wrong direction in almost every area. The current president has the lowest approval ratings of almost any president in American history, and Congress's ratings are even lower.

"People are extremely skeptical and disapproving about the major institutions in our society - including the media which is supposed to inform them about what is going on in their world.

"And, if you read some of the hundreds of e-mails that have come into my office recently, or heard some of the phone calls, you would know why people are so angry and frustrated with what's going on today.

"I have heard from families where both mom and dad are working, and because of the price of home heating oil they were unable to adequately heat their home last winter and their child ended up in the hospital with pneumonia.

"I have heard from working people who make $10 or $12 an hour, and who are finding it harder and harder to fill up their gas tanks to get to work with gas at $3.75 a gallon.

"I have heard from seniors who are living on fixed incomes and are making the choice between keeping warm in the winter, or buying the food or medicine that they desperately need.

"It is not just the outrageously high price of fuel that concerns people. I hear from working people who have lost good-paying jobs as their companies shut down and moved abroad, and they are now working for lower wages than they used to receive.

"I hear from young people who are leaving college, or graduate school or medical school $20,000, $50,000, even $100,000 in debt - and they are not quite sure how they are going to pay back that debt, and they get discouraged because that debt influences their choice of career.

"I hear from doctors who tell me what is happening to patients they see who lack health insurance, and the insanity of a situation in which people delay coming into the doctor's office, get sicker and sicker and by the time they see the doctor the cost of treatment is much higher than it should have been, while the patient unnecessarily suffers and sometimes dies.

"I hear from parents of young people in Iraq who ask me: when will this war will finally end? When will their sons and daughters come home?

"I hear from town and city officials who wonder how it is that we can spend $12 billion a month on the war, but we don't have a fraction of that money to pave our streets and highways, rebuild our bridges and waste water plants, or build the public transportation systems that our state and nation desperately need. Teachers ask me why it is that, because of inadequate school budgets, they have to take money out of their own pockets to buy school supplies

"And I hear from people deeply concerned about the environment and the crisis of global warming, who wonder how it is that we can provide hundreds of billions in tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires - but not have the kind of funds needed to break our dependence on foreign oil or other fossil fuels and move to energy efficiency and such non-polluting or greenhouse-gas-emitting energies as solar energy, wind energy, geothermal and biomass - among other forms of renewable energy.

"Tust me, these are just some of the concerns that I hear from Vermonters and, in fact, from people all over the country.

"In the midst of all of this, on a beautiful Saturday in mid-May you are graduating from Castleton State College. So, what does all of this have to do with you? And the answer is - everything. For better or worse, your generation is being called upon to address some of the most serious problems facing this country since the Great Depression. You haven't asked for it - but here it is anyhow. You know what? I happen to be very optimistic that your generation can do a lot better than mine in addressing these problems and in moving this country forward in a very different direction.

"Today in America we have, by far, the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major county on earth. While the middle class continues to decline and poverty increases, the wealthiest people in America have not had it so good since the 1920s. Incredibly, the wealthiest 0.1percent now earn more income than the bottom 50 percent, and the richest 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. In Washington D.C., the corridors are filled with lobbyists representing the powerful special interests - the oil companies, the drug companies, the insurance companies, the defense contractors, the corporate media, the banks and credit card companies - and every other major corporate entity in the country. Can your generation make great strides forward to creating a more egalitarian society and a stronger middle class? Can your generation help end the power of big money over the political process? I think it can.

"Today in America the cost of higher education is soaring and young people are leaving school deeply in debt. We lack high quality pre-school programs and many of our kids are simply not thriving. Can your generation provide the teachers, administrators, pre-school instructors that we need to create a world-class educational system? Can we make college education and graduate school affordable for all - regardless of a family's income? I think you can do that.

"Today in America we are the only major country that does not guarantee health care to all of our people as a right of citizenship. Forty-seven million Americans have no health insurance, more are under-insured and we spend twice as much per person as any country on earth for health care. Can your generation provide us with the doctors, nurses, health care technicians and administrators that we need to move us to a national health care program which provide quality and cost effective health care to all Americans? I have absolute confidence that you can.

"In the midst of difficult times, great opportunities arise. In these difficult times in American history, I believe that there is great opportunity for the idealism and energy of your generation. I have absolutely no doubt that your generation will rise up, tackle the very difficult problems that we face, and lead America in a very direction from where we are going now."

You can see pictures from the senator's commencement address here.