Adversity is no stranger to Clarence Mingo.
A person of color, he recalls how the most vile racial slur was thrown at him as a child, both on the street and in “polite” society.
And while serving in Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War, he was exposed to toxic chemicals. Like many Army veterans of the era, Mingo has developed Parkinson’s disease.
As the keynote speaker to the Oberlin High School Class of 2017, he said graduates must not allow tough circumstances to discourage them. “We must ensure they are equipped with the concept of perseverance.”
Graduates will face relationship issues, financial issues, and health issues, Mingo said. They must not allow those pressures to push them off the path of success.
Despite his hardships, Mingo has found his own success in spades. He has twice been elected to serve as Franklin County auditor; he is also a lawyer who has helped the indigent, worked as a child advocate in abuse and neglect cases, and was appointed by Ohio Supreme Court Justice Thomas Moyer as one of seven commissioners in criminal appellate cases.
What has Mingo learned? That success is meaningless unless it is rooted in good character. Young people, he said, must embrace self-control, patience, brotherly kindness, and must treat each other with respect — without dignity, compassion, and grace, whatever success graduates may find will be hollow.
Oberlin graduates must also be ready to embrace the challenges of our complicated world, he said, whether on the Korean peninsula, in the southern Ukraine, in the Middle East, or here in the United States.
Mingo said that while Americans feel the economy is slowly getting better and their standard of living is generally edging upward, polls show they feel the country is moving backward in at least one key area: race relations.
One such poll from 2016, conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News, found six in 10 Americans believe race relations are bad. A majority believe they are getting worse. Gallup found last year that 35 percent of us worry “a great deal” about racial tensions.
Mingo remembers being lectured by his mother, who said one day black people and white people would learn to embrace each other. That won’t happen, though, unless we learn to know each other in meaningful, intimate ways, he said.
The nation is also divided by political rhetoric, with deep divisions visible after the 2016 presidential election. This is the time for young people to stand up and inject civility into the political process, Mingo said. While there are many proud to be Republicans, Democrats, or independents, we need to remember we are all Americans.
Graduates must also be prepared to make wise choices and live in a way that reflects wisdom, he told the crowd.
They have a responsibility to preserve our nation for future generations, but they also have a responsibility to themselves — to be wary of how a drunk driving charge or posting the wrong picture on social media can have far-reaching consequences.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.