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Bernard Osher (Photo: Stephanie Secrest)

Commencement remarks by Bernard Osher

  • June 11, 2011

Congratulations and best wishes.

As you are well aware, you are graduating into a world that has changed dramatically since you entered the university.

Here at home we have many problems: two wars, unemployment, enormous debt, and many other challenges too numerous to mention. But you can make a difference by simply doing one thing... vote.

As you know, the vitality of any democracy demands that its citizens be informed and participate. In our representative form of government, we must vote to maintain the right priorities and to elect political leaders who will work in support of those priorities.

I worry that the vitality of American democracy is at risk given people's growing inactvity in public affairs and civic life.

Do you realize that in our presidential elections the U.S. has rarely reached 60 percent voter participation? The figure is a depressing 40 percent turnout in non-presidential election years.

Some countries like Australia, Brazil, Belgium and Greece, have compulsory voting and voter turnout is 95 percent or higher. There are other countries, particularly in Western Europe such as Denmark, Germany and Sweden where, even without mandatory voting, turnout is 88 percent and above.

But, returning to our own country, let me give you a few examples of just how important everyone's vote is.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy won the presidency over Richard Nixon by 128,000 votes out of 68 million votes cast, or by two-tenths of one percent.

Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford by 700,000 votes with over 80 million votes cast... less than 87 one-hundreths of a percent.

Close to home, in the 2010 California attorney general election, the district attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles -- Kamala Harris and Steve Cooley -- were caught in such a tight race that it took three weeks to determine the final outcome. Of about 10 million votes cast statewide, Harris beat Cooley by less than 75,000. Just think of it, 75,000 people... less than 10 percent of registered voters just in Alameda County... could have changed the result entirely.

This is a brief glimpse of just how important every single vote is. If you want to put our nation on a sturdier, more truly Democratic course, please vote . You and those you inspire and encourage can make all the difference.

The future of this great republic is in your hands.

Thank you and good luck.

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