John Berry, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, delivered a commencement address to the University of Maryland at College Park that showcased gay rights progress as proof that people living authentically can improve the direction of the country.
“Heal the nation,” he challenged the graduates. “No one party has a lock on the truth.”
Berry, the highest-ranking openly gay appointee in the federal government, spoke at his alma mater on Sunday. The speech is one of six that the former National Zoo director will give around the country this commencement season, according to the Washington Post.
The top administrator said that growing up, he feared that his sexual orientation would jettison his dream of a career in public service. He saluted the late Frank Kameny for his relentless campaign against his dismissal from the federal government for being gay in the 1950s.
“Because Frank demanded equal treatment, he made my career possible,” he said.
Berry also spoke in highly personal terms about his conservative father’s refusal to accept his partner. When his partner died of AIDS a decade later, his father was the person who comforted him in his last moments.
“Wounds do heal,” said Berry. “Minds do change. That is the value of truth. It lays a bedrock of certainty that the sand of half-truths cannot rival.”
Berry, who oversees the human resources management for nearly two million federal employees, also dispensed some practical advice for the class of 2012. He urged them to “do good,” whatever their sector of employment.
“If you find yourself at any point working for a bad person, walk away,” he said. “No matter how much money they’re paying you, no matter how much power they’re giving you, walk away.”
Watch the speech. Berry’s comments about being gay begin around the 9-minute mark.