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Patrick Urges Harvard Grads To Act On 'Unrest' In Hearts

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick greets the crowd during Harvard University commencement exercises Thursday. (Steven Senne/AP)
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick greets the crowd during Harvard University commencement exercises Thursday. (Steven Senne/AP)
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Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick told Harvard graduates to listen to, and act on, the "unrest" in their hearts as they head into the world.

The 1978 graduate of Harvard College and 1982 graduate of Harvard Law School said during his commencement speech Thursday that the world is depending on the graduates for big ideas to tackle problems from social inequity to climate change.

He said it will also take hard work to turn those ideas into action.

Patrick, who ended eight years as governor in January, also tried to instill a bit of modesty into the graduates of the Ivy League school.

"The world is indeed yours for the taking. Even so, I want to urge you to be a little uneasy," he said. "I'm talking about the kind of unease that comes from being a little unsure that you already know all you need to know. The kind of restlessness that compels you to look beyond yourself for answers and meaning.

"As my grandmother would say, `What you don't know would fill a book,"' Patrick added.

Patrick, the state's first black governor, referred to himself as a "poor, black kid from Chicago" and praised those active in social movements, including the Occupy and Black Lives Matter protests and those pressuring institutions like Harvard to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

"I don't want unrest in the streets, but I do want unrest in our hearts and minds," Patrick said. "I do want us all to be uneasy about the grim realities of black men and families and the widespread nonchalance about poverty. I want us to be uneasy about the chronic desperation of communities that some of us are just one generation away from living in."

Patrick said the graduates must not turn a blind eye to the persistence of racism in the culture.

"You know that what's happening in Ferguson and Baltimore is but the frayed edge of a neglect that is undermining our country and that declaring ourselves officially race-blind or post-racial as a way to end division or discord is neither honest nor responsible," he said.

Patrick said the daunting challenges call for leaders who can look past their personal ambitions.

"We need uneasy leaders who won't let your ideals be casualties of your confrontations with realities," he said. "We need uneasy leaders straining to hear the yearnings of the powerless as clearly as we do the expectations of the powerful."

Patrick recently joined the Boston firm Bain Capital to develop a line of "social impact" investing to support causes from climate change to hunger.

Bain Capital was founded by Patrick's predecessor in the Massachusetts governor's office, Republican Mitt Romney.

This article was originally published on May 28, 2015.

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