The following article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor, May 26, 1991. Revised most recently in 2012.
When the late comedian Bob Hope addressed a Georgetown University commencement, he said that he wanted to "offer a couple of words of advice to you young people about to go out into the world." Then he paused and said, "Don't go."
There is a great deal that is wrong out there, and I am almost tempted to give you the same advice. But you are, of course, "out there" already. Students today are less sheltered from the worst aspects of the world than they were in the past. You have not been allowed much innocence.
Instead of urging you not to go, I want to say: "Go out and right some great wrongs. Be peacemakers. Show that the world can live without abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, suicide, torture, and war."
Some will encourage you to find a job that offers you a great deal of money. But that advantage may not console you in old age when you look back upon your life and ask whether you have done anything to make the world a better place. It certainly will not console you then if the hunger for money has led you to make the world a more miserable place. Do not, I beg you, invent new and more horrific weapons systems. Do not accept a job that will involve you in abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, torture, or war. Refuse, or resign from, any job that threatens to involve you in maiming or killing human beings. Always keep enough distance from a job so that you can walk away from it on a matter of conscience.
More positively, try to devote your career to the protection of human life, which faces so many threats today.
The pro-life movement needs more doctors and nurses--in everyday practice and on the ethics committees of hospitals and nursing homes. It needs more lawyers who are skilled and tenacious in defending human life. It needs organizers and speakers and politicians and directors of pregnancy care centers.
The peace movement and anti-death penalty movement need activists with every conceivable skill--from grass-roots organizing to lobbying or serving on Capitol Hill. They, like the pro-life movement, need people who can transcend partisan and other differences as they work against all threats to human life.
Also needed are reporters and other writers who are willing and able to do serious work on the life-and-death issues. There are some great role models from recent history: Hannah Arendt, Albert Camus, Dorothy Day, Nat Hentoff, Malcolm Muggeridge, Helen Prejean, Elie Wiesel, and others.
There is also a great need to regain lost intellectual territory in medical ethics. What Nat Hentoff calls the "new priesthood of bioethicists" has wrought devastation in the universities and medical schools. Good minds are needed to set things right.
"Blessed are the peacemakers," who are, alas, in such short supply. Perhaps you can be a domestic peacemaker by becoming a first-rate marriage-and-family counselor. Skilled peacemaking is also needed in labor-management fights and neighborhood disputes. It can help people avoid lawsuits, feuds, hatred, and heartache.
Peacemaking is critically needed on the international level. Skilled diplomacy really can avoid wars and settle ones that have dragged on for many years. And we need diplomats who are committed to the protection of human life against famine, torture, and death squads. Sometimes a diplomat can sound alarm bells early, winning attention and action before a serious problem escalates to genocide.
Sometimes, though, such warnings are ignored at high levels for obscure or cynical reasons. This makes the work of private human-rights groups doubly important. You might consider saving lives by working for such a group. Be wary, though, of political leaders who try to use human rights as a cover for wars that have quite different goals.
If you cannot devote your entire career to life-saving and peacemaking, I hope that you will do volunteer work in those areas. The needs are so great, and the workers relatively few.
Whatever other career you may select, please use it to add to the joy of life. Perhaps you can grow flowers and shrubs and trees that give people joy. Perhaps you can be an old-fashioned farmer, growing food for others and keeping the beauty of open spaces that the human soul needs. Or you might be an architect, leading a trend away from the oppressive and the pretentious and toward buildings of grace and style that give a lift to the human spirit. Or a first-rate storyteller like Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden. She once told her son: "With the best that I have in me, I have tried to write more happiness into the world."
There is plenty of important work out there for generous hearts and willing hands. Go for it!