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The best kept secret in America today is that people would rather work hard for something they believe in than live a life of aimless diversion.
—  John William Gardner
A nation is held together by shared values, shared beliefs, shared attitudes. That is what enables a people to maintain a cohesive society despite the tensions of daily life. This is what enables them to rise above the conflicts that plague any society. That is what gives a nation its tone, its fiber, its integrity, its moral style, its capacity to endure.
—  John William Gardner
There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are.
—  John William Gardner
Creativity requires the freedom to consider unthinkable alternatives, to doubt the worth of cherished practices.
—  John William Gardner
The most important moral of all is that excellence is where you find it. I would extend this generalization to cover not just higher education but all education from vocational high school to graduate school. We must learn to honor excellence, indeed to demand it in every socially accepted human activity, however humble that activity, and to scorn shoddiness, however exalted the activity. An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because philosophy is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.
—  John William Gardner
Mastery is not something that strikes in an instant, like a thunderbolt, but a gathering power that moves steadily through time, like weather.
—  John William Gardner
A series of great opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.
—  John William Gardner
America's greatness has been the greatness of a free people who shared certain moral commitments. Freedom without moral commitment is aimless and promptly self-destructive.
—  John William Gardner
Some people have greatness thrust upon them. Few have excellence thrust upon them ... They achieve it. They do not achieve it unwittingly by doing what comes naturally and they don't stumble into it in the course of amusing themselves. All excellence involves discipline and tenacity of purpose.
—  John William Gardner
For every talent that poverty has stimulated, it has blighted a hundred.
—  John William Gardner

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