Thank you.

It’s a pleasure to be with you today. I hope you enjoy your time on our campus, and you have some great takeaways that will help you.

Thank you to Abby Hancox and the organizers of this conference for all your work putting this together. And thank you to the folks here at the KCAC who helped make this happen.

One of the great benefits of a college education, I believe, is the opportunity to be a leader. College is more than textbooks and classrooms, more than lectures and term papers. It’s a place where you have myriad opportunities to grow, learn, and find your career path.

There’s a scene in the movie Spider-Man––the first one––where Uncle Ben tells young Peter Parker that “with great power comes great responsibility.”

A lot of people credit Spider-Man creator Stan Lee with creating that idea. But its origin goes back way before a movie that was released 22 years ago.

It’s a take on an old French idiom, Noblesse Oblige, which in English means “nobility obliges.” It’s the belief that having nobility, or the benefit of opportunities and advantages, requires one to fulfill social responsibilities to not appear unfit of such entitlements. Put another way, whoever claims to be noble must conduct themselves nobly.

Noblesse Oblige is likely a take on a passage from Homer’s Iliad, written in the 8th century BC. And that likely served as inspiration for a passage in Chapter 12 in the Book of Luke, which most biblical historians say was written somewhere around the year 100 AD.

My point is that this notion––having great power means having great responsibility––is nothing new. It’s been around in different forms for thousands of years, but it’s just as applicable now as it was when back then.

That’s what I’d like to talk to you about today. Not Spider-Man, or the Iliad, or the Bible, so much as the idea that you all, by having great power in your hands, also have great responsibility.

As leaders on your college campuses, you have the power to influence people. Not in the sense of convincing people that you’re right about something––although if you can do that you may want to look into becoming a university president because I can assure you that’s one of the toughest parts of the gig.

You have the power to lead by example, and you cannot take that responsibility lightly.

There are a lot of ways in which you can do this, and I could stand here all night espousing them. But I want to focus on one.

If I said Christmas was 310 days away, you might get excited. Or if I said Commencement was 78 days away, some of you would really be excited.

But in America, if we say that Election Day is 256 days away, two-thirds of our population shrugs and says “Ugh.”

According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of Americans say they feel exhausted when thinking about politics.

55 percent feel angry.

By contrast, just 10 percent say they feel hopeful.

Only 4 percent are excited.[1]

The question is why.

Why do so many people feel disenfranchised by the American political system?

Why do so many people feel apathetic about it?

Why do so many people form their opinions based on talk shows and Facebook posts and not on facts?

Why do so many people take for granted a right that millions of people across the globe don’t get?

The easy answer is that our political system does not resemble today what our forefathers intended. But it’s more nuanced than that.

It used to be that both sides of the political aisle agreed on what the goal was; they just had different opinions about how to achieve it. Nowadays, being perceived as right seems to be the only goal, damn the system that was created, as Abraham Lincoln described 164 years ago “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

It seems like any time you hear something about politics, you’re hearing that one side is wrong, one side is right, and neither is relenting. Makes you wonder how they get anything done.

Here are two recent examples.

About three years ago, Republican President Donald Trump faced articles of impeachment for his alleged role in trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

When the Democratic-led House of Representatives voted, all 222 Democrats––along with 10 Republicans––voted to impeach Trump.

Four Republicans chose not to vote, and the remaining 197 voted no.[2]

Just a couple weeks ago, Alejandro Mayorkas (May-or-cuz) faced an impeachment vote when a group of Republicans brought charges against him because they believed he, in his role as the Secretary of Homeland Security, had not done enough to protect the border between the US and Mexico.

All but five of the 219 Republicans voted to impeach Mayorkas (May-or-cuz). Every one of the 212 Democrats, along with four Republicans, voted against it, and the charge was dismissed by just two votes.

Three days later, the Republicans tried again. This time, because one of their own who missed the first vote was able to attend, and because four Democrats could not make it to DC to vote, the results went the other way and Mayorkas (May-or-cuz) was impeached, 214 to 213.[3]

These are two good examples of politics driving our politicians, which although it may not sound like it, is a bad thing. Party affiliation was the main factor in the voting, not the merits of the charges.

It proved what we already knew: that the only thing the two sides agree on is that they can’t agree on anything.

I don’t mean to sound so despondent about our political system, but since 65 percent of Americans feel that way, it’s understandable if I do. Partisan politics is not new. But it has turned ugly. It’s frustrating to see our things continue this downward spiral, and I’m concerned about how low it can go.

Sadly enough, more than 200 years ago we were issued a warning about this very thing.

In his farewell address near the end of his second term as our first president, George Washington spoke of the dangers of giving too much influence to political parties. He said that unchecked political parties may claim to be trying to solve demanding problems, but their true intentions would be to take the power from the people and place it in the hands of unfit leaders, creating a system where bad people hold the fates of good people in their hands.[4]

Washington said that in 1796, but it sure sounds like he was talking about 2024.

Today, the United States is not a nation united. We are a nation divided, and politics is the line that separates us.

So, what does this have to do with you?

In your leadership roles, you can help set the tone on your campuses by being stewards of the right way to work together. Politics should be about finding common ground to build on. The only way truly great things happen is together, when people with different backgrounds and ideologies unite to solve a problem.

It can be done, trust me.

But we must be united in our will to do better than what we see happening today. It’s OK to disagree. But it’s not OK to disagree in ways that disparage or marginalize groups or individuals. We must not focus on who gets credit or whose idea is best. We must focus on achieving the great things we are capable of.

You have the opportunity, nay, the responsibility, to be better leaders than the finger-pointers in Washington. On your campuses, be change-makers who lead in good faith, who focus on the results, and who want everyone to benefit from the shared governance of higher education.

Starting at the small, grass-roots level is the only way that things will get better so that 65 percent of Americans won’t turn up their noses in disgust when the topic of politics comes up.

Maybe someone has suggested to you that as the leaders of student government at state-owned universities, you do not wield much power.

Not true.

You have the power to lead by good example. You have the power to mend fences and bring people together. You have the power to show what can happen when we put aside our differences and work together to make this world a better place.

That ripple effect can travel a long way.

Again, you have the power. You also have the responsibility. Use it wisely.

Thank you again for coming to our great university. I hope you enjoy your time at IUP, and that you leave here inspired to be the amazing leaders I know you can be.

[1] Americans’ Dismal Views of the Nation’s Politics,, September 19, 2023

[2] Second Impeachment of Donald Trump,

[3] Impeachment of Alejandro Mayorkas,

[4] George Washington’s Farewell Address,