December 6, 2011
“What Is Your Sentence?” — Remarks for #Wheelock College’s Passion for Action Scholars, Boston, MA

The motto that captures the Wheelock College Compact to engage, connect and act in ways to inspire a world of good


On November 16 I had the honor of speaking at a fundraising event for Wheelock College at the JFK Library in Boston.  The annual event celebrates students who receive generous four-year scholarships at $20,000 per year because of their proven commitment to community service.  Each of the Passion for Action Scholars demonstrates pursuit of Wheelock College’s mission:  to improve the lives of children and families.


Inspired by the setting which memorializes the late President John F. Kennedy, and a story I heard about his challenge to summarize his Presidential mission in one sentence, I concluded my remarks with the following:


“To keep going day in day out in pursuit of a vision, one must make it not merely analytical but personal, knowing how one’s story intersects with that vision.   Equally important is to distill one’s story to a sentence — to a mantra — to a guiding principle that you can pull from your pocket and recite to yourself when you are exhausted or discouraged.   It must be BIG, so big that you will never fully achieve it; so BIG you would be embarrassed for anyone else to hear it; but succinct enough, SMALL enough to fit in your pocket. 


“Being in this incredibly august setting reminds me that one day in 1962, Claire Booth Luce, a playwright and a Republican, had advice for President Kennedy.  Worried that his policy objectives were too diffuse to be achievable or memorable, she bravely said,


“‘A great man is a sentence.   “He preserved the union and freed the slaves….or…  He lifted us out of a great Depression and helped to win a World War.”  A great man is a sentence.  What is yours, Mr. President?’


“President Kennedy was challenged to condense his life’s mission to words ending in one period.  That was prescient advice, because he had less than three years to make them real. 


“What is YOUR sentence?  I have hung onto my sentence for eighteen years.  Our Wheelock Passion for Action Scholars are developing theirs.  What is YOUR sentence that drives YOU to change the world?


“Tonight… we are gathered in the presence of bravery, of those who have served, of those who have transformed their schools, their neighborhoods, and our world.  We’re here with those who are Driven to change the world for this and the next generation of families and children.  How will we honor these heroes?  What will we give?  How will we bravely link our visions — our sentences — our Drive with theirs?  As Wheelock’s founder said, “Be brave, for there is much to dare.”


For more about Wheelock College’s Passion for Action Scholars and award winners Dr. Carol R. Johnson, Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, and Dr. Linda Nathan, Founder and Co-Headmaster, Boston Arts Academy see:


For the full text of my remarks see:  Wheelock College 11-16-11 REMARKS PDF