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Ryan Ripple, a Missouri Boys State alumni who serves the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the organization’s Global Development Program, spoke to Boys State participants at Hendricks Hall on the campus of the University of Central Missouri on Monday evening:

Ryan Ripple addressing Boys State citizens in Hendricks Hall on Monday evening.

[applause] Thank you. Thank you…that was extremely generous, far too generous for me. It’s just an honor to be a part of Missouri Boys State. This is a place that’s such a special part of my life and got the last ten years off to a good start. I’m exceedingly grateful to be part of a group and to see them all around in blue shirts [Boys State staff] who have done far more to serve this program, their communities and their country then, then I have or might ever do. And it’s just a real privilege to be associated with them and, and with the Legion and all this place represents.

This is a great testing ground for service, and hopefully you’ll come to see that throughout this week. I wanted to talk about two things tonight that I took away from my time at Boys State that have sort of gripped my mind since I was here. One of them is the idea that good citizenship and service begins with a sense of curiosity. I hope you’ll find that to be true this week. It’s about asking questions about hard problems.

And for me it became real with my mother’s illness. My mom, unfortunately, didn’t have health insurance. And she faced a disease without the security of knowing that her medical bills would be taken care of.  And it led her to prevent or delay diagnosis for over a year, so that when she did get her first diagnosis it was far too late to change the course.

For me that was the beginning of a time of asking some very hard questions.  I realized that I couldn’t even begin to take ownership of the situation that I faced unless I set aside my moments of disbelief and started to ask hard, tough questions about. From doctors and community members and people who had faced this disease before. What I found is by asking questions I opened myself up to a lot of relationships with people. I formed an alliance with doctors and nurses and community members. Who raised fifteen thousand dollars to help my mother pay for her, her care. It was an extraordinary experience, where I learned that by simply taking time to suspend disbelief, to ask questions, to wonder about the details, and to question my own thoughts, big and small about our health care system. And what, what good treatment options were available for my mom. Was it worth doing x or y for my mom?  But I also learned that questioning may be necessary, it’s not sufficient for making change in a situation. At some point you have to put questions aside and you have to believe in something. And for my mom it was belief in a positive outcome and a recovery…

…But this place, from its history as…told you about, is so much about belief. In nineteen thirty-five when the first program was getting started, it was about instilling within the youth of our country the sense of belief about big ideals. About what Democracy could accomplish and what good could come from engaged and active citizenship.

A lot has changed in the world since then. And a lot has changed in Missouri Boys State, but there are some fundamental truths that still hold. One, is that engaged citizenship does make a difference. And I think about the work that I do now and see the value of it. The great struggles we’re gonna face, all of us, are not against a monolithic power. It’s about inequity. It’s about inequity around the world and in our own state.

One sixth of the world’s population lives on less than a dollar twenty-five a day. Almost a billion people. In countries like India and Nigeria people die of diseases long forgotten about in this country. We eradicated polio in nineteen fifty-one. You know it still has a deadly grip on India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.

And in our own country there’s a growing gap in economic opportunity largely because there’s a growing gap in educational achievement. Do you know that twenty-five per cent of your classmates around the country will not graduate from high school? And those that do in this state, only half will go on in the next six years to complete a four year college degree.

Inequity is big and small. You will see it this week in your cities. And you will see it when you go home next week in your towns and your cities there. And you have, as a result of being here, a great network of people on which to call to begin to address some of these problems.

You have to ask the question. Why? Why is this the state of reality? Why are these the facts that I face? And then you gotta believe in something. You gotta believe in the facts not as they are, but as they can be. And once you have done that you’ve got a direction and you’ve got a path. And you’ve got a call to service.

There’s  a great quote that I love. It’s from Margaret Meade. And it goes like this. “There is no doubt that a group of small committed, thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that does.” And that is so true.

What you will do this week will maybe change your lives, it will certainly change the course of Boys State. And what you do at home with the group, the network that you’ve made here and the commitment that you take away, will change the course, perhaps, of your town. If you’re responsive, if you ask questions and then believe.

So I hope that you’ll take away from this week a two step process. One, ask questions. And two, think of the big ideas, the reality that you want to see and believe in it. And you can make a difference.

I hope you have a great week and it’s just such a pleasure and an honor to be back. I really admire you all for coming and I thank you guys, again, for the chance to be back for this time. Thank you. [applause]