Remarks as prepared for delivery
It is a great honor to be invited to speak to you today, here, just a short distance from the Monroe School where thirteen courageous Topeka families helped prove that separate could never be equal.
And across the street is the Statehouse of this great state of Kansas, which was founded on the principle of freedom, but where freedom had to be won, nonetheless. A state where the great struggle to free a people from bondage truly began, years before the attack on Fort Sumter and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Today we honor a leader in the ongoing quest for dignity and equality for all human beings. We honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
His short life was overflowing with purpose. His inspirational words and extraordinary deeds have become part of the cultural history of all Americans. And his faith, commitment to peace, and courage inspire those who seek freedom across the globe, from South Africa to Iran and beyond.
Dr. King's life and death made it possible for change in America, and in the lives of millions of individuals.
He made it possible for a colored girl raised in a small, segregated North Carolina town to become the first African-American and the first woman to have the privilege to live atop Mount Oread.
Dr. King made it possible for a boy born of a mother from Kansas and an absentee father from Kenya to move into the White House. And the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will continue to enable and inspire millions more to achieve their dreams.
It is for these reasons - for creating the possibility of change and for articulating this change - that Dr. King's legacy endures to this day. And it is why we celebrate and honor him.
But while he is most often remembered for his campaigns in Montgomery and Birmingham, and for the dream he shared with us from the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, his advocacy and legacy began much earlier in his life.
Two decades before King told us he had been to the mountaintop he was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Even then, he had a vision for how America must change and how education is central to that change.
His words from an article he wrote for his school newspaper still resonate with me.
"We must remember that intelligence is not enough," he wrote. "Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate."
I'm afraid that today we often value only intelligence that can be measured by standardized tests, not the attributes that are required to survive the many real tests we will face in our lives.
This is understandable, because it is easy to test whether our children know the multiplication tables or when the Declaration of Independence was signed. It is much more difficult to measure what King would call "the content of their character."
All of us need both - intelligence and character - to be successful. And we need our children to have both if we are to continue to seek the America that King saw in our future: the more perfect union we have sought since the nation's founding.
Our America is beset by challenges, many of our own making. We have not always heeded King's words. We have not always concentrated upon "worthy objectives."
A society's values are revealed by whom we reward and by how fame is achieved. Too often our society heaps accolades upon those involved in hollow pursuits, while ignoring the devotion shown by teachers and social workers and paying only lip service to the courage shown by firefighters and peace officers.
Thousands of talented people on Wall Street devoted their time and talents to the alchemists' age-old pursuit of gold from lead. They were highly paid for this work of creating money from nothing, only to have those activities crash our economy and threaten the economic stability of the world. Those failures sent millions of their fellow citizens to unemployment offices and dashed the retirement dreams of millions more.
Imagine if that talent had been used to build more responsible businesses or to seek new forms of clean energy. Or even to teach in any of the thousands of schools whose students are desperate for passionate, dedicated teachers who expect and demand success from every child.
Their talents could have changed the world for the better.
"True education," as King called it, gives us not only skills, but the character to direct those skills toward pursuits that are worthy. Pursuits that enrich humanity, not just ourselves.
True education helps us live what King would later refer to as "the complete life" - a life measured by its length, breadth and height.
King told a congregation in Chicago that the length is: "that inward concern that causes one to push forward, to achieve his own goals and ambitions." He said the breadth of life "is the outward concern for the welfare of others. And the height of life is the upward reach for God."
An education gives us the tools to fulfill the length of life, but only if we find our personal calling and spend every day in pursuit of that calling. And because our society rewards such frivolity as fame for fame's sake we must look deep inside ourselves to find our true calling.
Few of us will be called to be president. Few of us will be called to be great astronauts or concert pianists. But each of us will be called to a purpose. And through education and a commitment to fulfilling that purpose we can achieve our calling, and live the meaningful lives we are meant to live.
This is challenging - to use every day to fulfill our purpose - but it is only one dimension of the complete life, King tells us. The second dimension requires great moral fortitude to reach beyond ourselves. To use our intelligence and our character to lift up those around us. To truly be our brother's and sister's keepers.
A true education guides us to the point where we reach beyond our own needs. It gives us the character to ask not only, "What will I gain through my action?" but also, "What will society lose through my inaction?"
That is the essence of the breadth of life: Service to others, despite the risk or the cost. It is a dimension that King lived to its fullest, ultimately costing him his life.
The final dimension - the height of life - calls on us to find an even broader meaning to our lives. For many of us, we find that meaning through God, by loving and serving God - no matter by what name we may call Him
Yet, regardless of your faith, and even whether you choose to worship, this broader meaning is still relevant. It is a voice in each of us telling us to stand up for what is right and just. A sense of connection to our planet. And a desire to make each day better than the last.
That is the height of life and it is the final element of a complete life. A life devoted to achieving our own destiny. To helping others achieve theirs. And to finding the true meaning of the finite time each one of us is given on Earth.
That is what I think of when I think of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is to that complete life that we should aspire every day.
Thank you so much for being part of this celebration. And may each of us use our intelligence and character to achieve a complete life, and to live not only Dr. King's dream, but to fulfill our own.