Having ridden his political fortunes from the Holbrook Town Planning Board to the Massachusetts state legislature to Washington, D.C., White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card knows a thing or two about public service. Card shared many of those lessons during an inspirational Class Day address to Kennedy School graduates and their parents on Wednesday, June 6.
Speaking to a packed house of approximately 400 people at the Arco Forum of Public Affairs, Card urged the graduates to “get turned on” about politics and the political process as they begin or continue their careers.
“Public service … is the most noble thing you can do in a democracy. Don’t take it for granted,” he said. “You are not obligated to participate, but it is your responsibility to have a guilty conscience if you don’t.”
Card invoked the spirit of his late grandmother, who inspired him to a life of public service through her vivid memories as a suffragette and by her dinner-table discussions about current events. Even in her dying days, Card said, his grandmother encouraged him to be engaged in the political system.
“It was Christmas 1971 and my grandmother was in South Shore Hospital in Quincy … and she told us her time had come,” he said. “She wanted to talk to each one of us alone … and when it was my turn, I sat down and held my grandmother’s hand and she said ‘Andy, tell me something from the newspaper today,’ and we talked about politics.
“She said, ‘Andy, continue to participate in politics because if people don’t participate in their government then democracy will die.’ That was the last thing she said to me. She died that night, but she left me with the most wonderful curse. It is the curse of participation. I have to participate in politics, and I do so not in the name of my grandmother but out of respect for our country.”
Card also alluded to the election of President John F. Kennedy during his speech, recalling the strong emotions he felt when the Massachusetts native was elected to the White House in 1960.
“There was a change in the personality of Washington, D.C., and the country and I was caught up in that change,” Card explained. “As a student at Holbrook High School, I was very excited by the election of a young president. I didn’t support him, but I was excited by his election, and I believed he would go to Washington and make a difference.”
The story echoed Card’s recurring message to the Kennedy School graduates in the audience – that they too can go to Washington and make a difference, and that’s what public service is all about.