2007 Valedictory Address by Boyd Tinsley The University of Virginia May 19, 2007 Congratulation, Class of 2007. One more day and you made it. After four years of English and math, history and science, four years of cramming for tests, four years of coming up with creative excuses for extensions, tomorrow you will be graduates of the University of Virginia. So, go out this weekend and celebrate like you’ve never celebrated before. Go have one last drink at the Biltmore and Coupe DeVille’s; one more go-round on the ice luge; a few keg stands or two; eat, drink and be merry, because you know, next week you got to get a job. Or at least, go to graduate school. It’s good to be back here at the University. Somewhat over 20 years ago, I studied American history here. Just looking around at some of the buildings brings back memories. I should say. I “occasionally” attended classes here at the University of Virginia. It’s hard not to take an interest in history living in Charlottesville and central Virginia — the home of three of our founding fathers: Madison, Monroe and, of course, Thomas Jefferson, who, I realized over the years, I share a few things in common with. One, we’re both from Charlottesville. Two, we’re both violin players. We both had hair that stood out in a crowd. Mr. Jefferson experimented with hemp, and so did I. But most important, we’re both dreamers. He dreamt that 13 colonies could rise up against the British empire and create a nation governed by the consent of the governed. I dreamt that a poor kid from Charlottesville could one day grow up to play violin in a rock and roll band. Against conventional wisdom, both our dreams came true. But frankly, I don’t believe in conventional wisdom. And I don’t think Mr. Jefferson did either. Who would have thought in 1776 that America would be a free nation and I would be up here talking to you today? 2007 Valedictory Address by Boyd Tinsley Page 2 Dreams are a powerful force. They have brought down empires; they have righted injustices. Every invention has started with a dream: the light bulb, automobiles, planes and computers. Dreams put a man on the moon. All of these accomplishments started from a thought to an idea and on to a dream. When we dream and believe and persevere and use every bit of our hearts, our minds, our blood, sweat and tears, we can accomplish anything. Men and women throughout history, by their actions and their faith, have changed the world. Men like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and JFK, who challenged us to land on the moon. Women like Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat. These people and many like them were leaders. They sacrificed their lives to bring us where we are today. Many of those leaders are people you’ve never heard of. I want to talk about one right now who is a great inspiration to me. This is a lady who raises two kids and one husband; who dedicates her time to going around the world to Third World countries and teaching burn care to nurses. She’s dedicated her life to that. She’s a huge inspiration to me — my wife, Emily Tinsley. [These leaders] left a legacy for us to continue. They took a look around at the world they lived in, and they refused to accept things the way they were. And then they set out to change the world. Now that legacy has been passed on to you. You’ve had the fortune not to have lived through some of the most tumultuous events in this country over the past several decades, with the exception of the wars we find ourselves in today. And I believe that we will meet those challenges like we have met all our challenges in the past. But you don’t have the emotional attachment to events like the civil rights movement, Vietnam and Watergate that challenged generations before you. I think that this has freed you to look at the world in a completely different way and from a completely different perspective. But I hope that you continue to learn from this history so that we don’t make the same mistakes over and over again. I’ve met a lot of you, and your generation gives me a lot of hope for the future. In Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he refers to the generation of his grandchildren living in a country where people would be judged by who they were on the inside and not what they looked like on the outside. You are that generation. And from what I see, I think you are living up to that dream. Even though we have come a long way, there is so much left to do. 2007 Valedictory Address by Boyd Tinsley Page 3 I know it seems a little soon to think of yourselves as the future leaders of this country. But like it says on your rearview mirror, “Objects in the mirror are much closer than they appear.” The future is a lot like that. The other day I turned 43. Yeah, I can’t believe it either! I can still remember, somewhat clearly, what it was like to be your age. You know how sometimes you know something in your head, but not until you see it in print does it really hit home to you? So, I’m reading the paper the other day, and I come across the celebrity birthday announcements. And I’m reading Janet Jackson is 40; this actor is 30; this musician is 25. Then I read “Boyd Tinsley, violinist of the Dave Matthews Band, is 43 years old.” And I said this must be a mistake. I don’t feel 43. It doesn’t seem that long ago since I was a youth. My message to you is to cherish every moment of being young. As graduates of U.Va., you will be called upon to be leaders in government, in science and of corporations — positions of power and influence. Among you are future congressmen, senators, governors and mayors. And some young lady out here will be a future president of the United States. I hope that, like me, you will refuse to accept conventional wisdom. And when change is needed, I hope you will refuse to accept things as they are. Over the past few summers I have gone up to Walter Reed Hospital to visit with some of our brave and courageous troops. These are guys who are missing limbs and who have brain damage and struggle to walk. When I come into the room, they still get up and shake my hand and look me square in the eye. I’m very proud of them. I’m very proud of all of you here who will be going into the military, and I just want to say, good luck and Godspeed to you. I was very honored to receive a medallion from some of these troops, a medallion that is generally passed from unit to unit when they meet each other on the battlefield. And on this medallion is written, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Those words have inspired me in my own small way to give to that cause to make this world a better place and I hope they will inspire you as you go through your lives. This is also what I hope: I believe that you can end poverty in America and greatly reduce it around the world. I believe that you will find a cure for diseases like AIDS and cancer that kill thousands every day. I believe that you will find a way to reverse global warming. I believe that you can create a more peaceful world — a world where peace is the rule and war is the exception. 2007 Valedictory Address by Boyd Tinsley Page 4 And I hope that you will once again bring us back to a time when a person’s patriotism was judged by how much they loved their country, and not by how much they loved war. And I ask of you to bring us closer to the dream of another prophet who said, “One love, one heart.” Thank you very much. It was a great honor to be here today. Boyd Tinsley, a native of Charlottesville and an alumnus of the University of Virginia, is the acclaimed violinist for the Dave Matthews Band.