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Former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow and award-winning author M.G. Vassanji addressed more than 1,000 graduates during Old Dominion University's 107th commencement ceremonies Saturday at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. They spoke of challenges, opportunities and responsibilities the graduates now face.

Snow, who spoke at the morning ceremony to graduates of the colleges of Engineering and Technology, Education and Sciences, urged graduates to keep learning "because in the great game of life, the unexpected is the rule, not the exception.

"The point is, you are headed into the great unknowable -- a life defined, enriched, decorated and upended by surprise," he said. "It is a time of inexpressible excitement and promise."

Snow talked about the American character, both good and bad, and noted that graduates will face serious questions about God and country that lie at the heart of their life and times.

"You will receive the challenge each American generation hands to the next -- the duty to keep freedom's flame bright, and to serve as a force for decency and not bare-knuckled power...The moral: don't diss the United States. Appreciate it. Refine it. Improve it. But don't mess with the basic ingredient -- freedom."

He counseled graduates to acquire discernment, moral knowledge and patience to distinguish between good arguments and bad ones, good practices and bad ones, and truth from falsehood

"Take pride in this day, but realize that this is just the beginning. The best and most exciting days lie ahead, as do those filled with fear and dread," he noted. "The two go hand-in-hand. But the journey will strengthen you. It will forge your character. It will define you."

Award-winning novelist and editor M.G. Vassanji spoke during the afternoon ceremony to graduates from the colleges of Arts and Letters, Business and Public Administration and Health Sciences and received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

The Kenyan-born Vassanji, who emigrated to Canada and later studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told graduates how he discovered the idea of freedom in college.

"Not the freedom from a dictatorship, which is easy to understand...But the freedom I discovered was to be and say what you want; to define yourself. To believe that what you thought mattered, and you should therefore express yourself...All this came about through a single act of generosity by an American university system abetted by kindness from individuals.

Vassanji noted that the world has changed, it is less secure and more dangerous than what it was. "Our moral principles and our freedoms are under stress, and we are not sure what is quite right.

"But...I thought I would remind you of some of the qualities of your people and nation and way of life that made a deep impression on me," he said. "More than that, (they) gave me a second birth; and to remind you, and to urge you to guard these qualities that have made you permanent friends...and that now and in the future...set an example to the world and make it more peaceful."

This article was posted on: December 15, 2007

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