Life choices after you 'cross the tracks' at Purdue

December 15, 2013  

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Loretta Rush gave these remarks on Dec. 15, 2013 during Purdue University's winter commencement. 

On behalf of my colleagues on the Indiana Supreme Court, including our Chief Justice Brent Dickson who is also a Purdue graduate, I offer my heartfelt congratulations to all of you having reached this life milestone. This is your day.

Thank you President Daniels for inviting me to speak. And special thanks to all the parents, sisters and brothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, wives and husbands, that supported you along the way.

Before I start, by way of full disclosure, I must tell you that I love Purdue and the black and gold. There is a lot of cream and crimson down in the Indiana Statehouse. Rest assured I am defending our honor.

Now, just look at you.

I was told that this is the smartest, sharpest-looking, kindest and funniest graduating class in Purdue's history. Now that I have met a number of you and taking a good look at the rest of you, I realize that description is well deserved.      

In preparation for my remarks, I came to campus and spent time talking with many of you that are graduating today. I had to laugh when Caroline Eberle jokingly asked: "Did you walk on the moon?" Sorry, I am just part of a team that safeguards the rule of law in Indiana.

When I first came to Purdue in 1976 I lived at McCutcheon Hall. I worked on the cafeteria line cleaning dishes. I was demoted once for not properly removing the chicken bones before they went down the disposal we affectionately referred to as the "pig." Recalling those days I never dreamed I would be standing here sharing in this day with you.

I am the daughter of a railroad man, Ed Hogan. I was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania and moved 16 times growing up, and lived along the Erie Lackawanna train line; from Hoboken, New Jersey to the south side of Chicago. It was the train that brought me to Indiana and eventually Purdue.

 You may be aware that a short distance away from here are the Boiler Train Tracks, called Rush Crossing. Rush Crossing is a 52-foot replica of the original railroad tracks which ran from what is now the Purdue Airport to the main campus. They were a gift from alumni, my in-laws, Janet and Jim Rush. Each fall during Boiler Gold Rush more than 5,000 freshmen ceremoniously cross those tracks to mark the beginning of their journey with Purdue. You, as new graduates, will cross those tracks again today after commencement to signify that this part of your journey has come to an end and that you are crossing over to a new life.

These tracks are a symbol of Purdue's history as a land-grant institution. The objective of land grant colleges was to teach agriculture and the "mechanic arts."  Purdue's mission included providing an education to the sons and daughters of the working class to meet the labor demands of this country. And those sons and daughters responded.

 In the late 1800s the railroad industry was plagued with technical problems that were expensive to correct. It was Purdue that built a test site, the first of its kind, to solve those problems. Purdue cancelled classes the day the 85,000-pound test locomotive was delivered so that students could drag, by hand, the locomotive to the test site. It took eight days of rugged perseverance.

Purdue has always persevered in answering the tough questions. That's what we do. And that has not changed in the last 144 years.  We did it when there were national transportation issues and now the world is looking to you for solutions to the tough questions of our day.

You are those "sons and daughters" that will respond.

Today I want to spend some time speaking with you about the overarching choices you will face as you cross those tracks and a few of the choices that I have tried to live by after I crossed those tracks so many years ago.

As juvenile judge in the Courthouse across the Wabash River for many years, I had countless conversations with youth about choices and the relationship of those choices to the strength of a person's character. As part of their delinquency case, I would ask children to come back to court and tell me what character meant to them. During one such night court, 17-year-old Naquan appeared again before me.

I asked him: "Ok let's hear it: "What does character mean to you?"

And he replied; "Judge, I have been thinking about it … and character means doing the right thing when no one is looking."

He nailed it. You, armed with your diploma, will soon be faced with many opportunities to make choices when no one is looking. And those choices will define you.

When working with children who had been abused, neglected and were suffering under often horrific circumstances, I chose to see the hope; to see the positive that can be done when placing a child in a safe home and what we can do together as a community/state/nation to protect our most vulnerable.

I wish all of you could be up here seeing what I see.  In a word, I see hope. The 2013 Millennial Impact Report noted your generation is volunteering in record numbers. Purdue students are increasingly more interested in how they can be part of making positive change in the world. Purdue Dance Marathon students decided that $528,000 was not enough, so they raised twice that amount for the children of Riley Hospital this year.

Campus-Wide Days of Service and Community Action, Alternative Spring Break Programs, service learning courses and the Boiler Volunteer Network address everything from hunger to homelessness to winterizing of homes. There is a waiting list for students that want to be a Purdue Mentor. Your generation is using your talents to effect social change.

We need you. You are a hopeful generation. I saw that during many trips to campus, and I see it now with this beautifully diverse group in the auditorium.  You are truly choosing HOPE!

Next, choose a passion for a cause and be willing to stick your neck out, take risks and have fun while you do it. If you are not passionate about something, you are missing something essential in your life. Who knows where that passion will take you?

 For me, I felt compelled to help children in our society that suffered harm. This passion started by volunteering a few hours a week with these children while at Purdue and it later became my career. Little did I know that those children were forming me all along, eventually leading to a seat on the Indiana Supreme Court.

You are about to cross the tracks and achieve something great. Yet, I am here to press you to do more for others.  You know the quote: "For those to whom much is given, much is expected." 

When you consider what you have been given and earned in the way of opportunity, there is no limit to what the world has a right to expect from you. 

And most importantly are those choices you make every day. Every one of you has remarkable gifts: gifts that have been developed and strengthened during your years at Purdue. But in the end what matters are not the gifts themselves but the choices you make in how you use them. For example:

* The ability to argue your position effectively is a gift. Tolerance, humility and kindness while doing so is a choice.  

* The skills and education necessary to make money are gifts. Generosity is a choice.

 * The capacity to confidently articulate your own thoughts is a gift.  The willingness to listen to others with whom you disagree is a choice.

I began this talk by telling you how proud I am to call myself a Boilermaker. I am proud because of all that Purdue has contributed to the welfare of our society. And I am full of hope because of what will be each of your unique legacies to this same end. Purdue has prepared you for the challenges you will face. Be confident in that.

Choose hope, choose a passion and be mindful of your everyday choices. And as you cross those tracks ending your time at Purdue remember the words of Naquan who had it right: Your choices matter. They matter all the time, whether someone is looking or not.

Congratulations and may God bless.

Related webiste: 
December graduates receive Purdue degrees

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