In school auditoriums across Nebraska this month, high school graduates have been hearing essentially the same message: "You have completed basic training for your life and now are entering a time when you can make a difference. Go forth and succeed."
In her commencement address Sunday, Kearney High School graduate Marissa Benavides suggested that success can be measured at many levels, from giving birth to a child and properly raising it, to leading major corporations or a nation. A fundamental measure of each of those endeavors is whether you make a difference, Benavides said.
Her reflections serve as a suitable perspective from which to examine the contributions and philosophy of another KHS graduate, Peter G. Peterson.
We referenced Peterson earlier this week in a Hub Opinion about his latest mission, that of sounding an alarm on U.S. fiscal policy. Our bloated government and personal irresponsibility are destined to leave future generations paying for the largess of today.
At age 81, Peterson ought to be easing into the retirement he deserves, but instead he's acting like the man that Benavides envisioned in her commencement address - he's intent on making a difference.
There may be nobody better suited for the challenging task that Peterson has chosen.
Today, as senior chairman of Blackstone Group, Peterson is wealthy and connected, and he has the time to devote to his mission.
He netted $1.8 billion in 2007 when the international investment firm he co-founded went public, and he has pledged a substantial portion of his wealth to underwrite the foundation that bears his name. The goal of the Peter Peterson Foundation is to do for fiscal policy what former Vice President Al Gore has done for environmental awareness.
Of course, Americans seem better bred to digest global warming issues than they are capable of mulling the inconvenient truths about their nation's fiscal maladies.
As a sort of monetary Paul Revere, Peterson wants to warn Americans about issues such as insolvency in health care, the demise of Social Security and government overspending. He believes Americans also need to hear about their own fiscal shortcomings, including low savings rates and high personal debt.
In a March interview, Conde Nast reporter Lloyd Grove asked Peterson, "Why should we believe that this (foundation) will go beyond its good intentions and bright ideas and actually have some impact on public policy and the way we live?"
Peterson said success is the only acceptable alternative.
"I think we're at a make-or-break point in America, and if we continue to deny these challenges, which I do think are unsustainable, then in not too many years, we'll become a very different country," he said.
Regardless how a person measures success, the lesson we see in Peterson's mission is clear: Don't settle for good intentions and bright ideas.
Make a difference.