Madeleine K Albright

Bucknell University Commencement Address - May 19, 2019

Madeleine K Albright
May 19, 2019— Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
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President Bravman, distinguished faculty, families and friends, Bucknellians: good morning.

Let me begin by thanking the senior class for the invitation to be with you on this very exciting day.

I was told that the students wanted to hear from a “strong and impressive woman.” Well, if that is true, then you only need to look as far as your all-star class congress — led by President Laura Bart, Vice President Emily Shapiro and Treasurer Annie Girton.

I have attended many graduations as a student, and a mother, and a professor and a commencement speaker — and confess to loving them all.

Graduations are unique milestones in our lives. For parents, they are cause to marvel at how short the interval is between diapers and diplomas.

For graduates, they are the payoff for long hours of study and hard work.

And for the class of 2019, today is the climax of years spent not only in the classroom and at Bertrand Library, but also on the athletics field, or performing on stage at Harvey Powers Theatre, or writing for the Bucknellian, or serving on student government, or participating in any of the other wonderful student organizations here.

I have to say I enjoyed very much the video of trying to answer questions about how many, the students did how many different things. I guessed some of them right.

Of course, in future years, you will recall this ceremony, and you will understand that the moment you passed through the Christy Mathewson–Memorial Gates this morning was the moment you first began to forget everything you learned at college.

But as the names of dead European kings and the body parts of dissected animals begin to fade, the true value of your days on this beautiful campus will become more and more apparent.

For by studying here at Bucknell, and by graduating alongside students from 37 states and 27 countries, you have gained a global perspective — and that is true whether you studied philosophy or markets, innovation and design, the art of diplomacy or the science of engineering.

This outward orientation is vital because the class of 2019 will live truly global lives. You will compete in global workplaces, shop in a global marketplace, and travel further and more often than any prior generation.

To succeed, you will require the kind of knowledge that extends beyond mere facts to knowledge of self.

I know from my own experience that such wisdom can be hard to obtain.

I went to school at another great liberal arts institution, Wellesley College. I like to tell my students that I graduated about halfway between the invention of the iPad and the discovery of fire.

At college, I learned much about Renaissance composers and Shakespearean plays and the periodic table, but I also learned much about myself: that I wanted to use the fine education I had received for something more meaningful than table conversation; that I wanted to test — not simply accept — the limits and boundaries of the life I was preparing to lead; and I wanted to give something back to this country that had given so much to me.

I suspect the same is true for you and your experiences here at Bucknell.

You arrived here having already lived 21st-century lives.

Members of this class hail from every continent and have already served as advocates for orphans, studied sustainable development in the Maldives and won scholarships for promise in social justice.

Regardless of where you came from, at Bucknell you have learned much about what is outside you and much about what is inside you, as well.

You learned how to put your opinions — and your assumptions — to the test.

This is important, because from this day forward, you will have to rely not on grades or guidance from professors to tell you how you are doing or where you stand.

You will have to rely instead on an inner compass. Whether that compass is true will determine whether you become a drifter who is blown about by every breeze; or a doer, an active citizen determined to chart your own course, question your own assumptions and, when necessary, sail unafraid against strong winds.

I look at the world today, and I must say that what we need are doers — both here at home and overseas. The world is a mess. That's diplomatic term of art. For we are living in a time that is more unsettled, more complicated, and more in need of a new generation of leaders than any that I can recall.

At home, America's great challenge will be to retain a sense of community and common purpose.

My guess is that, wherever you are from, each of you share something very basic with me.

We were brought up to believe that a true patriot is someone who wants to help his or her country become respected and admired, to be a leader among nations and the champion of values to which people everywhere can subscribe — the kind of country, for example, that is known across the globe as being indivisible, and for its dedication to liberty and justice for all.

But there is another kind of nationalism, the kind that talks about "my country, right or wrong," the kind that pays no heed to the well-being of others, the kind that retreats from global responsibility and confuses its own claims of greatness with greatness itself.

This is dangerous because when pride in "us" descends into fear or hatred of "them," the American tapestry unravels and the social fabric is torn. [applause]

The result has been a surge in racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism; attacks against members of the LGBTQ community; the demonization of refugees and immigrants; and the near-constant terror of shootings in American classrooms.

Sometimes, we have to ask, after all the tragedies we have seen and after all the times we have said "never again" again: What will it take for us to realize that however important the differences that distinguish us may be, they are nothing compared to the common humanity that binds us?

We are blessed to live in a country whose very identity and purpose are wedded to respect for humanity and all who comprise it.

No matter our race or creed, we are all equal shareholders in the American dream.

Living up to that principle and valuing fairly the contributions of each other, is the great test our nation must pass in the 21st century.

Around the world, we will face other tests, the outcome of which is equally uncertain.

Today, America remains the world's leading nation. But there are many in Washington and around the country who think of it as an island.

They believe that we are unaffected by the events across the far side of the sea.

They refuse to accept that America's interests are linked to the security and prosperity of allies and friends. And they do not understand that our global leadership carries with it both tangible benefits and enormous responsibilities.

We should be unafraid to exercise leadership in support of peace, in defense of liberty and to further justice.

But we must at the same time realize that we can rarely succeed simply by going it alone.

If we want the world to heed our views and to follow our lead, we must at least listen to the concerns of others.

We must listen to allies who ask us to engage with our adversaries through diplomacy, rather than by beating the drums of war.

We must listen to scientists who say global warming is real and a grave threat to our future [applause], and people who believe that conservation is a national security imperative, not a four-letter word.

And we must listen to those who argue that globalization should not lead to so many people feeling left behind.

I have traveled to almost everywhere, and I have found that there are essentially three categories of countries in the world today.

In the first, people work all day and still don't have enough to eat. In the second, families are able to scrape together just enough food to meet their basic needs. And in the third category of countries, diet books are bestsellers.

Of course, the same distinctions also apply to the neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Baltimore, and to the mountains of Appalachia and the American West.

Confronted with this hard truth, some people simply shrug their shoulders and say that such inequality is too bad, and there is not anything anyone can do about it.

I say such unfairness is intolerable, and we each have a responsibility to change it. [applause]

There was a time when we could say that we didn't know enough, or did not have enough resources, or were too imperiled by other urgent threats.

But today, there can be no doubt that if only we would so choose, we could produce enough food, build enough shelter, deliver enough medicine, and share enough knowledge to allow people everywhere to live better and more productive lives.

Now I don't mean to place the weight of the world on your shoulders, because that is always going to be your parents' job.

But I do hope that each of you will use the knowledge gained here at Bucknell to be more than a consumer of liberty, to be also a defender and an enricher of it, employing your talents to heal, help and teach.

I hope you will help chart a new role for America in the world — somewhere between isolationism that shuns global problems, and neo-imperialism that leaves us grappling with the hardest problems virtually alone.

I hope you will be doers, not hearers only, and that when required, you will indeed dare — as the seal of Bucknell University suggests — to be the light of knowledge and education surmounting the storms of life.

Because your choices will make all the difference to you, and to all of us. The future depends not on the stars or some mysterious forces of history, but rather on the decisions that you and I and every one of us makes.

It is said that all work that is worth doing is done in faith.

Today, at this ceremony of cherished memory and shared resolve, I hope we will each embrace the faith that every challenge surmounted by our energy, every problem solved by our wisdom, every soul awakened by our passion, and every barrier to justice brought down by our determination will ennoble our own lives, inspire others, and explode outward the boundaries of what is achievable on this earth.

So to the class of 2019, I say again, “Congratulations.”

I say " 'Ray Bucknell, ’ray for the Orange and the Blue."

And thank you again so much for letting me participate in your great celebration.

Congratulations, 2019!

Bucknell University [BucknellU]. (2019, May 19). Bucknell 2019 Commencement • Full Ceremony (Video File). Retrieved on May 22, 2019 from