In an address at the University of California, Berkeley, March 23, 1962.
Who are we? Where do we come from? Why are we this way and not some other? What does it mean to be human? Are we capable, if need be, of fundamental change, or do the dead hands of forgotten ancestors impel us in some direction, indiscriminately for good or ill, and beyond our control? Can we alter our character? Can we improve our societies? Can we leave our children a world better than the one that was left to us? Can we free them from the demons that torment us and haunt our civilization? In the long run, are we wise enough to know what changes to make? Can we be trusted with our own future?
Whatever career you may choose for yourself - doctor, lawyer, teacher - let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it. <br/>Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights. <br/>Make it a central part of your life. It will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher. <br/>It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can. It will give you that rare sense of nobility that can only spring from love and selflessly helping your fellow man. <br/>Make a career of humanity.<br/>Commit yourself to the noble struggle for human rights.<br/>You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in.
Why is it that, as we grow older, we are so reluctant to change? It is not so much that new ideas are painful, for they are not. It is that old ideas are seldom entirely false, but have truth, great truth in them. The justification for conservatism is the desire to preserve the truths and standards of the past; its dangers, of which we are seldom aware, is that in preserving those values, we may miss the infinitely greater riches that lie in the future.