Every spring, I'm reminded of how hard it is to write and deliver a commencement address. Graduates are thinking much more about getting their diplomas than digesting sage advice from some wise and knowing elder. Those of us assigned the task of giving the speech inevitably find it a humbling experience - a bit like being parsley on a dinner plate.
I'm sure everyone who reads this column has a message of their own for graduates, and if you want to pass yours on to me, please do. I know I'll need some new ideas for next year.In the meantime, I'd like to share some of what I said to graduates of the University of Arkansas, Drew University and the University of Maryland in commencement addresses earlier this month.
I talked about the importance of politics and government in a pluralistic democracy such as ours, particularly at a time of such momentous change.
Just looking at the world around us, we see a new global economy taking shape, offering Americans the potential of greater prosperity but also the challenge of stiffer competition.
We also see how new technology is bringing the world closer together, changing the ways we communicate and do business but also reminding us that virtual reality will never substitute for human relationships.
Family dynamics are being transformed as most families send both parents - mothers and fathers alike - to work outside the home, posing the critical question of who is supposed to do what within our most intimate relationships.
And the world itself is changing. Communism has given way to capitalism, tyranny to democracy, closed markets to free trade, all of which is causing us to redefine the ideological labels and geographic boundaries that have framed our thinking for most of the past century.
At times like these, it's tempting to seize on easy answers, pat generalizations and stereotypes.
You know the stereotypes I'm talking about:
If you're under 25, you're an apathetic Generation X-er.
If you're over 40, you're a self-indulgent Baby Boomer.
If you're a liberal, you're a bleeding heart.
If you're a conservative, you have no heart.
If you're a Democratic President from Arkansas, you're all of those things, depending on what day it is.
And if you're the wife of a Democratic President from Arkansas, well, you just better make sure your hair is in place.
The truth is, there is no single label that applies to any of us. Our world is too complicated for that. So I urged the graduates I spoke to - and I urge all graduates - to stand up for the common values, ideals and traditions that have brought our country and our democracy this far.
And while I know it's not fashionable, I also urge them to get involved in politics and government. Politics, after all, is about more than pundits and pollsters, just as government is about more than buildings and bureaucrats.
Politics with a small "p" is the process that brings us together to work toward common ends peaceably. As I said to the graduates, when I talk about politics, I'm talking about you.
It's fine to bash those who believe government is the solution to every social ill. And it's fine to bash those who believe that every government power should be curbed. But one thing we can't do is reject politics and government in the process.
That's a cop-out.
Government and politics are not perfect. They may even be boring. Their achievements often seem minuscule in comparison to the issues we face.
But we are a better country today because generations before us paid the price to establish and maintain a stable, democratic government that protects our rights and expands opportunities that enable all of us to make the most of our lives.
My challenge to the Class of '96 is to go forth as active, committed citizens who believe that they have a stake in our government and our political system.
Now I can just see some of them rolling their eyes and saying to themselves, "Oh, c'mon, Mrs. Clinton. Really. I've got to pay off student loans. I need to find a job. I want to fall in love. I want to start a family. How am I going to find time for politics? You come from the Sixties. Your generation had higher hopes, bigger dreams. We're past that now."
My answer is: Give it your best shot. Work hard and love your spouses and your children. And make time for your neighbors, your communities and your government as well.
You may never run for office. You may never marry someone who runs for office. But go into the future thinking of yourselves as stewards of our democracy and as men and women who will keep the flame of freedom and justice alive.
If there is one message that I hope gets across it's that citizenship can't be dismissed as someone else's responsibility. Each of us has a role to play.