WWII combat pilot. Astronaut. Senator. Most of us would be extremely lucky to have but one of those on our resume. John Glenn, who passed away this week, did it all… he even went back into space at the age of 77, aboard the Discovery space shuttle.

On February 20th, 1997, the thirty-fifth anniversary of the date he became the first American to orbit the earth, John Glenn announced his retirement from the Senate in a speech in his hometown of New Concord, Ohio, at Muskingum College, his  alma mater. Here are a few excerpts that ring very true today:

To me, a willingness to build peaceful relationships with other countries is perhaps the most profound measure of a great nation. 

The enemies I’m talking about are cynicism, apathy, selfishness, hostility toward government and incivility toward one another. 

We didn’t win our world leadership by bemoaning our fate, by overemphasizing our shortcomings, by carping about what was bad — but by building on what was good. And we rose on the strength of our ideas and on the ingenuity and self-confidence of our people, with education for all, and emphasis on curiosity and research into the unknown. 

Democracy in our country must be constantly reinvented – it must be fought for. And nothing worth fighting for comes easy. 

Don’t tune out, cop out or drop out. Don’t give in to complacency and cynicism. Don’t ignore what is bad, but concentrate on building what is good… and never forget that in our democracy, the government is not “them” — it is “us.” 

In fact, one thing I’ve learned in my 75 years on this planet is that the happiest and most fulfilled people I’ve known are those who devoted themselves to something bigger and more profound than merely their own self interest. And I’ve learned that there is nothing in this world more special than the simple act of helping others. 

Get the full range of information available to you. Don’t let your views of government and politics and world events be formed through the filter of other people’s biases or ignorance. Develop your own ideas, for you are the government. If you want to join a political party, by all means do so. But before you do, read up on the issues and define in your own mind what political values and principles are most important to you. Then choose a party. Don’t join a party just because your friends or your parents are associated with it. 

Fight for equal rights for all people; battle racism and ethnic hatred; build bridges between people and generations. Your work may not make headlines or send you on ticker-tape parades – but you will make a difference. And you will know it. You will know it. and that will be reward enough. 

If today’s politics lack civility, my reaction is not to run away — but to work harder until we make it better. When I see people in public office whose ideas and policies would lead us backwards instead of forward, would gut educational opportunities, would cut help to children who otherwise have little hope, would cast senior citizens aside, my impulse is not to quit but to stay and fight for the kind of future Ohio needs and America deserves. 

I believe the day will come when this nation finally and forever lays aside racism, sexism and every other “ism” that divides and cripples us. And I believe we will yet make the old dream of justice a new American reality. 

Playing Bowie’s “Space Oddity” would make sense here, but I have to give some love to a Cincinnati band instead:

 

 

 

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