SPEECH: George McDonald at Hobart and William Smith Colleges

On May 15, 2010, founder and president of The Doe Fund, George McDonald, was honored by Hobart and William Smith Colleges at its baccalaureate ceremony. He gave the following remarks:

Thank you so very much. I am honored and humbled by this recognition. After hearing Harriet’s remarks, you can clearly see the inner beauty that accompanies her outer loveliness.

Recently, I expressed my nervousness about what to say here today to former Governor Mario Cuomo. He said, “It’s very easy. Tell them there are two simple principles that should guide us.”

The first is that the greatest gift we have been given is our existence, our life.

Second, since we all share the same principal needs and desires, we are naturally inclined to treat one another with respect and dignity.

The Hebrews made these ideas the foundation of their beliefs. Tzedakah is the principle that we should treat one another as brother and sister, children of the same great source of life. And Tikkum Olam is the principle that instructs us to join together in repairing the world.

Rabbi Hillel pointed out that these two principles are really all you need: “The rest,” he said, “is commentary.”

As a Catholic, I was taught that these simple tenets were also the basis of Jesus’s teaching. “The whole law is that you should love one another as you love yourself, for the love of truth and the truth is, God made the world but did not complete it; you are to be collaborators in creation.”

When I walked into Grand Central Terminal back in 1984, I was armed only with a desire to serve.

I knew that the homeless folks sleeping on subways and benches could lift themselves up out of poverty, but they couldn’t do it alone. They needed a real second chance at life, and they needed others to believe in them.

I learned very quickly during those two years I spent feeding the people living in Grand Central that New Yorkers wanted to help, but, for a variety of reasons, couldn’t or didn’t know how. The idea that I had—an organization to receive contributions which in turn would be given anonymously to those in need—was the genesis of The Doe Fund. Of course, that was followed by the paid work and self-sufficiency we have today.

In the early years of The Doe Fund, I was surprised by how many checks we received in increments of $18—the symbol for chai—and as I understood more about Judaism, I discovered that “my” idea was the basis for tzedakah, thousands of years old, in the Hebrew faith. It was a humbling education, and I wanted to share this with you because it is remarkably simple, as Governor Cuomo said, how close we all really are in spirit—in our hearts and in our values.

We have helped thousands of people whom society had given up on—drug addicts, high school drop outs, the formerly incarcerated—enter the mainstream and become responsible and self-sufficient citizens.

It was my faith that allowed me to believe this was possible.

“Trust in God,” Saint Vincent said. “Trust in him, I beg you, and you will have the fulfillment of what your heart desires.”

Thank you so much. Tomorrow our work starts anew, but today, today I have a full heart.

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About Author: The Doe Fund

Founded in 1985, The Doe Fund provides life-transforming services for the homeless, the formerly incarcerated, disenfranchised youth, and people living with AIDS. The organization's flagship Ready, Willing & Able program has helped tens of thousands of individuals achieve permanent self sufficiency through paid work, transitional housing, and employment training.