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Commentary: Haley to graduates: Be ‘actively grateful’ for America’s blessings

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Editor’s note: Former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, now President Trump’s representative at the U.N., gave a commencement address and received an honorary doctorate Thursday at Clemson University. She is a 1994 graduate of the school. Here are excerpts of her speech.

It’s a great day at Clemson University! And it’s a great day in South Carolina!
Congratulations to the College of Business and the College of Education Class of 2018. And thank you for this amazing honor.
Growing up the proud daughter of Indian parents, my brothers, sister and I were pressured, as all Indian children are, to either be a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer. Well, it took me a while, but look, Mom and Dad. I did it!
I’m honored to be here today and honored to be given another degree from Clemson University. This one is fancier, but I have to say I worked a lot harder for the last one.
Today I’d like to talk about something that Clemson represents for me. And that’s gratitude. Gratitude in the active sense, in the change-making sense. Gratitude as the determination to take the things that have benefitted us and pay them forward.

Grateful to Clemson
Aside from my parents, Clemson is what has shaped my life the most. I met my husband, Michael, my very first weekend at Clemson. We were engaged four years later in the botanical gardens. Now I’m happy to say our daughter is a proud Clemson Tiger too.
Not only did I find a family. I also found myself here. I’m very grateful to Clemson. I came here as an undergraduate on a textile management scholarship. Yes, textiles. My timing was not great. By the 1990s, the textile industry was in a major decline in South Carolina.
But the scholarship was my ticket to Clemson. I was a girl from a close-knit family in a small town. Clemson was a big deal, full of new people, full of possibility, and I ran with it.
As you might have already guessed, I didn’t last long in textile management. After my first year, I changed my major to – wait for it – accounting. I know. I know. From textiles to accounting. I was living on the edge. But I loved math and I loved numbers. And an accounting degree from Clemson led to my first job as an accounting supervisor for a corporation in Charlotte.
And that led to my involvement in the business community, which led me to run for, and win, a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives, which led me to run for governor, which led to me being able to raise that orange flag over the capitol dome at the State House when Clemson football won the national championship in 2017. Go Tigers! That is truly a memory I will cherish forever.
My act of gratitude now is to represent the best of America to the world, paying it forward for the blessings America has given to me and to my family.

Active gratitude
Here comes my little bit of unsolicited advice – a couple of tips on living a life of active gratitude.
First, beware of social media. It’s almost as if it was invented to destroy gratitude. Everyone presents their most carefully edited lives on Twitter or Instagram. Posting the best pictures of the most exciting places we go and the most interesting things that we see.
But our social media lives aren’t the real world. Real life is usually messier, and whether we mean to do it or not, the fake lives we live on social media can evoke a kind of envy. That is a lack of gratitude that is very damaging.
On social media, the grass is always greener on someone else’s page. But this is a recipe for dissatisfaction with life. It makes us obsess about the stuff we don’t have rather than to be thankful for what we do.
As a country, we’re experiencing something of a gratitude crisis today and it’s not just on social media. Instead of feeling grateful, too many Americans are feeling entitled.
We take for granted the many, many blessings that we have. We feel entitled to be free, to speak our minds and to not have our feelings hurt. But these things are gifts, not guarantees. Just ask the three Americans recently released from a North Korean prison.

America’s blessings
And now, my second piece of advice on how to live a life of active gratitude. Be thankful to be alive in America in 2018.
Every day at the United Nations, I deal with countries where people are not free, where there is no respect for the inherent dignity of women or people of different races or faiths. Places where the rule of law is nonexistent.
It’s not that the United States is perfect. We’re not. But we’ve been given a great set of tools – freedom, the rule of law and respect for human rights – with which we can create a more perfect union.
Don’t take these things for granted. Be grateful for them. Preserve them, and use them to make a better life for yourself and your family, but also for the poor, the less fortunate, and for generations to come.
So congratulations on your graduation from Clemson University…. You should be hopeful. There is very little you can’t achieve in life if you put your mind to it. I’m proof of that.
You should be grateful not just because you have been given so much, but because you have so much to give.
Enjoy your special day…. I wish you all the very best in the real world ahead.