January, 2000, CANCUN, Mexico - Six days ago, we were living in the 1900's. That really sounds historic now, doesn't it? 1900's. Then we woke up on a Saturday morning, not only in a new century, but also a new millennium. It was January 1, the year 2000! Just the sight of those three zeros in a row looked so elegantly futuristic. Never have we had the same sense of history and the future in such close proximity.

It is six days later and I am now in Cancun, Mexico for a corporate speaking engagement with a biotechnology firm called Bio-Rad. Lounging on my hotel room balcony, gazing out at the waves gently rolling in on the beach at this paradisiacal resort on the Yucatan peninsula, my thoughts range philosophically.

Mindful of our rich but turbulent history, we as a civilization have managed to make notable advances. Our Star Trek communication device, imaginative science fiction thirty-five years ago, is today a necessary nuisance -- the cell-phone. Fifteen years ago, in the whimsical time travel film, "Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home," 23rd century Scotty had a comic scene where he attempted to talk to a 20th-century computer. Today, such a device, a voice-command computer that answers back audibly, is not only reality, it is a commercial product that a number of Star Trek actors have endorsed. Most astounding is the transformation of our geo-political landscape. When "Star Trek" first went on the air in 1966, the world was locked in the grips of the coldest of cold wars. Two great powers, the Soviet Union and the Western Alliance, were glaring at each other threatening mutual nuclear annihilation. Yet, on "Star Trek," we had a valued member of the Enterprise crew who spoke with a Russian accent and took pride in his Russian heritage. Back then, this character, Pavel Chekov, was pure fiction, a wistful hope for mankind's future. Today, we have had in fact, a space station called Mir up in the sky on which we heard not only Russian and American accents, but crew members speaking in the Russian language and English that worked together in concert. The grotesque presence of the Berlin Wall is gone. The Soviet Union is broken and in economic shambles while the United States has enjoyed the longest economic prosperity in its history. Despite the concern for irrational terrorist attacks that tempered our new year's celebration, looking back, our recent history has been good.

Turning from the past to our future and gazing out at a seeming infinity of tomorrows, all we can see is a vast unknown. We know that there are some certainties that serve as the benchmarks of time. The zero that punctuates the end of the year 2000 reminds us that this will be another census year. The political debates that have already begun in earnest tell us that there will be another presidential election. And the surest verity of any year -- we will be paying taxes. But the rest is a great mystery. We hope we will enjoy success. We expect there will be challenges. We pray we will not have setbacks. But we don't know.

All we can do to shape the course of what is to come can be determined by what we do and how we do it. And all we have to guide us in our actions are the values and ideals that have successfully brought us to this point. We have managed to build the most vibrantly pluralistic nation in history, still mindful of the inequities and conflicts that exist. We have made our free capitalist system the exemplar of the global economy while aware of the challenges that the deterioration of our environment industrial development brings. We have a dynamic peoples' democracy, as good as -- and as fallible as -- the people who participate in it.

As I gaze out on the waves on the beach of Cancun, rolling in with the same rhythmic regularity that it has maintained through countless millennia, I get a humbling sense of our small part in a great force. Whatever we do, let us give it our very best, acting with confidence in our problem-solving ability, our innovative talent and our creative imagination.

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