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    Graduation speakers at area colleges offered plenty of commencement wisdom

    AP photo/Michael Dwyer
    US Representative John Lewis at the Harvard University commencement

    At this time of year, Metro Minute likes to think big thoughts — and college commencements are made for such musings. As the graduation season winds down, we’d like to highlight some of the wisdom dispensed in recent weeks from podiums on verdant campus greens and echoey arenas and stadiums.

    Poet Rita Dove, at Smith College, eschewed platitudes and delved into THE big question: What is the mystery of life?

    “Since none of us can truly and conclusively predict where exactly we are headed, we must make the most of the journey itself. We must remind ourselves and each other that it matters how we conduct ourselves along the way—that we look at the landscape instead of barreling on by, that we have some laughs together rather than complain that our feet hurt—all the while acknowledging that there are no prepackaged, Twitter-size answers to the big questions about the Future.’’

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    Congressman John Lewis, at Harvard University, told graduates they must not remain on the sidelines:

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    “During this election year, I urge you, I plead with you, to do what you can to save and rescue America. To do what you can do save the planet. Save this little spaceship we call Earth and leave it a little cleaner, a little greener, and a little more peaceful, for a generation yet unborn.”

    Caryl Stern, CEO of UNICEF, at Babson College, put the focus on helping the displaced and forgotten:

    “Children do not get to pick where they are born and if they did, they would surely not pick poverty or a conflict zone. Children are the victims of the politics of adults – they find themselves displaced, hungry, and alone, through no fault of their own. We need to stop calling them refugees, stop calling them migrants, and see them for what they are – children. I pray that your generation will create a world more fit for children than the one my generation is leaving you.

    Michele Norris, award-winning radio journalist, at College of the Holy Cross. harnessed audience participation to stress the power of diversity:

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    “Look to your right and your left — and this isn’t just an off-hand comment — I actually want you to look to your right and your left. Look behind you. Take in this sea of diversity and know that some of us never take it for granted. Within our lifetime, to see a graduating class of this composition would have been unusual. In some states, within my lifetime — and I’m not that old — it would have been illegal. Never take that for granted. It’s part of your education. Fight for it. Fighting for it means reaching across an aisle; reaching across a perspective and engaging with someone that you don’t agree with.”

    Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, at Brandeis University, said that asking good questions will take graduates far.

    “One of my heroes is I. I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate physicist in the ’40s who said when he was growing up in New York all of his friends’ mothers would ask them at the end of a school day, ‘What’d you learn in the school?’ He said, ‘Not my Jewish mother.’ He said, My mother would say, ‘Izzy, did you ask a good question today?’ And the practice of encouraging his curiosity made him the thinker he became.’’

    Geoffrey Canada, educator and activist, at UMass Boston, highlighted the plight of children:

    “I wish I could stand before you today and say that my generation is leaving you a country that is better than the one we inherited from our parents. It’s not like we haven’t done any good. We eradicated polio, created technology that is revolutionary; we’ve improved civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights. But we haven’t kept my promise to eliminate those places where our children don’t have a chance. America’s children are more imperiled than ever.’’

    Roy Greene can be reached at roy.greene@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @roygreene.