This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a dinner where my older brother received the Distinguished Alumni Award for Public Service from the SMU Dedman School of Law. My brother and I, along with our sister, Amy, were raised by parents who showed us by their actions, of the import of giving back to one’s community. My brother accepted this award with the following remarks that I wanted to share with you. I hope his comments make you, like they did me, think about our own call to action and what we want the legacy our lives to be:
“This award is especially meaningful to me because it honors public service, and in my view, there is no higher calling than public service. I don’t mean the public service just of our politicians and elected officials; I use a much broader definition of public service. In my world, public service is what each of you do every day when you make a contribution to our neighbors around us. From your service on boards, to the time you volunteer to mentor a child, and all those contributions in between where you lend your professional expertise, your energies, your reputation and your heart for a good cause.
To me, this is the highest calling to which we as individuals can aspire. And as my children can attest, you don’t follow this path for the shorter work hours or for the paycheck.
The call to public service is an important one, and there are many reasons we are called to public service. There are the examples passed down by our parents as my mother and father passed down to me. There is our historic cultural dimension described by Alexis de Tocqueville’s description of our new nation. There are the economic benefits we see when effective public service meets good social policy.
And there is a theological basis shared by all of the world’s great religions to love your neighbor as thyself and to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But for all those reasons, we do it simply because it is the right thing to do. When we choose to serve others, we help build stronger families, and as we build strong families, we help build stronger communities and a more just society, and ultimately a stronger country and a better world around us.
CALL TO ACTION: To those who have been given much, much is expected, and SMU and this great law school have given to so many of us the tools to be successful; we have been given the ability to look at challenges critically, the influence and position to bring resources and the confidence to take charge and forge new paths when needed. My charge to all of us is that we use these blessings wisely.
So when we look back on our lives, we all want to live a life of meaning and we pursue public service because it is what makes us better human beings. In conclusion, I have come to realize that in the first part of your life, you want to make your parents and siblings proud of you. In the middle part of your life, you want to make your wife and your friends proud of you. And if you are lucky to live long enough, you want to make your children and grandchildren proud of you so that at the end of your life, you have created a legacy of generosity and good deeds. Thank you for this great honor, and thanks to this great law school which gave me the tools for so much of my life success.”
Phil is in the middle part of his life, yet he continues to make our family proud – in fact, beyond proud. And this is only one of the reasons. He is an inspiration to me as I am involved in carrying on the legacy of community involvement and public service that La Fonda has come to be known for.