Ashcroft, who spoke Dec. 14 to PBA fall graduates at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, reminded those in the audience to be willing to change their strategy as the world changes, but not to change their goals.
“If you don’t want the things that happen in the future that have happened in the past, you’ll probably have to change what you’re doing,” Ashcroft said, speaking to about 250 graduates and hundreds of friends and family members in attendance.
“We had to change the paradigm, the thrust, of the Department of Justice from one of prosecution—which was looking backward to recreate in the courts what had happened so we could hold someone accountable—to prevention, which is looking forward, a big change in our paradigm. But we had to do it.”
That was one of three points offered by Ashcroft, who led the Department of Justice through both the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.
He also told the graduating class that “you are desperately needed” in the world, “and in that respect, I want you to be a leader, not simply a manager,” he said.
“Every person under the sound of my voice today is the single most important leader in the world to at least one other person. Somebody watches you very carefully. You mold and shape his or her behavior.”
He urged the graduates not to worry about the size of their constituency. Referencing the biblical story of Jesus feeding the multitudes with five loaves and two fish, he reminded them to focus on the young boy who sacrificed those provisions.
“The right virtue, when dedicated to the right purposes, is available for God to provide the scale. And so trust God for the scale. Do the right thing, and amazing things happen. A youngster makes it into the history of the universe by sharing a lunch of five loaves and two fishes,” he said.
Finally, he said to recognize the value of diversity without sacrificing unity. He told a story from his days as governor of Missouri about when he brought the St. Louis Symphony to perform during a promotional trip to Japan. As he watched the musicians approaching the concert hall with their various instruments, “it dawned on me that these people are very different,” he said.
The lesson for him, he said, was “that working together for great achievements and great beauty does not require that we all be the same. As a matter of fact, it may require that we be significantly different,” he said. “Diversity is not the enemy of achievement. It is the friend and opportunity for achievement.”
During that trip, which ultimately was successful, “I recognized that they had great leadership and they had an agreed-upon goal that was reflected in the music that they played,” he said.
“If we identify the right goals that we pursue together and we accept leadership that we can commonly agree upon, there is virtually no limit to what we can do.”
Ashcroft was introduced by Susan Richmond Johnson, a 1995 PBA graduate who now serves as managing principal of The Ashcroft Group. Johnson called her boss, mentor and teacher “a very principled man” who possesses “courage of conviction.”
“(Ashcroft) believes that values aren’t transmitted to the next generation by government, by government-funded programs even, but by parents, by pastors, by teachers, by friends and mentors,” she said.
The University presented Ashcroft with an honorary doctorate, the 26th ever presented by PBA, during the program. Also during the ceremony, two of this semester’s Outstanding Graduates, Joseph Lubben and Tehila-Grace Wilson, offered reflections on their time at PBA.
“Each day is your mission field,” Wilson, who received a degree in elementary education, told her classmates. “Go and shine the light of Jesus on a broken and lost world.”
During the program, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp offered the invocation and West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio gave a greeting. Judge W. Matthew Stevenson of the 4th District Court of Appeals gave the benediction.
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