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May 1966

United States Commissioner of Education Harold Howe II urged the Class of 1966 to realize and then remember that real improvement in American life could only come about through the creation of decent communities which grant to all their members social justice and courtesy. “If I could find it in myself to do so,” he said, “I would encourage you to aim at the stars, to renew this tired world with your youthful enthusiasm and your high hopes…to echo, in short, the thunderous boosterism that has been popular with graduation speakers.” But, he warned, the world and the nation needed heroics less than it needed everyday courage and decency. The rare geniuses and occasional heroes would do what they inevitably do, he prophesied, but each person “can share the action and passion of his time without making a career of it. It is not necessary for you to build the millennium by 1970…. This is especially true with regard to civil rights, for the great battles remaining to be fought will not be waged in Selma and Watts, Montgomery or Bogalusa. The most enduring and critical victories will have to be won in the quiet communities.

“These battles will be won by personnel managers who go beyond employing brilliant Negroes to giving mediocre Negroes the same chance for a job as mediocre whites…. We need,” Howe concluded, “quiet heroes who—while going about their nine-to-five business—take time to shape a slightly different world than the one they found.”

The New York Times

The Years