This year Toni Morrision gave this commencement speech at Rutgers about living a meaningful life. She makes a wonderful point not only about how the American dream has changed but what it means to do good.
“I have often wished that Jefferson had not used that phrase, “the pursuit of happiness”, as the third right—although I understand in the first draft was “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” I would rather he had written life, liberty and the pursuit of meaningfulness or integrity or truth.
I know that happiness has been the real, if covert, goal of your labors here. I know that it informs your choice of companions, the profession you will enter, but I urge you, please don’t settle for happiness. It’s not good enough. Of course, you deserve it. But if that is all you have in mind—happiness—I want to suggest to you that personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to social justice, that’s more than a barren life, it is a trivial one. It’s looking good instead of doing good.