Commencement Address: Bringing Leadership to a Global Society

President Joseph E. Aoun
Northeastern University
Friday, May 2, 2008

Part I

It is my honor and my very great pleasure to welcome you to the 106th commencement exercises of Northeastern University.

Graduates: We truly are proud of you. We salute you, and we share in the joy of your accomplishments. This is the day to celebrate all that you have learned, for that knowledge will help you continue to learn.

For your parents, your families and your friends, your spouses and partners, this morning marks the fulfillment of years of anticipation and dreams. Graduates, join me in thanking them for the sacrifices they have made to help bring you to this moment.

For the faculty colleagues, staff, and trustees now is the time to take pride in the fruits of our work.

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Graduates, when you first came to Northeastern, and many times since, your professors hoped to inspire you with the phrase: “the world is your classroom.” It is my greatest hope that this phrase always rings true in your heart. Never stop learning about this world, for it will be the scene of your remarkable life journey.

My charge to you today is to use your power and privilege as well educated individuals to transform the world for the common good.

To do this you must continue to learn as much as you can about our magnificent planet. You can do this through education, through travel, through interactions with people from other cultures. This degree is not the end of your education. It is your launching pad. Your ticket to explore the world ─ and question what you find. Wherever you are headed next, make sure to stop and discover new places. Push the envelope and step out of your comfort zone. Learn to embrace change, both technically and humanely.

We all know that the world in which we live is vastly different than it was twenty, even ten years ago. It is a world defined by interdependence rather than insularity.

In 1956, then Senator John F. Kennedy delivered a commencement speech at Northeastern University. And he urged students to use their education to help the Massachusetts economy thrive and to bring new leadership and new vision to this great state and the nation.

I would like to venture that if the Senator were giving his speech today, he would also challenge you to bring new energy and leadership not only to our state and our nation, but to this world. For Massachusetts and our nation to thrive, you need to feel as much at home in Shanghai, Sao Paulo, or Johannesburg as you do in your own community.

It is clear that each of us will be challenged to engage in unprecedented ways with the global community, collaboratively and competitively. Think of all the elements dramatically reshaping our world…Scientific and technological innovations…The migration of peoples…The change in the balance of economic and political power… Global interdependence… Cross-cultural encounters. No matter what career you pursue, these changes will touch your life.

In such an exciting and challenging period of alteration and growth, the opportunities for educated people like you are extraordinary. Your minds are curious and eager to know more. They are pluralistic and embrace diversity of ideas. You are prepared for successful careers and meaningful lives. You are prepared to be citizens of the world.

You can not afford to confine your own world view to a single city, or culture, or continent for that matter. In the 21st century, greater cooperation among nations is essential to addressing global challenges at home and elsewhere – be it world poverty and the spread of infectious diseases, or global warming and the need for new energy sources.

Our well-being as a city and nation is dependent on the well-being of other cities and nations. Yet the differences both between nations and within them are still substantial. You, the world’s future innovators, are charged with helping us understand the nuances of those differences. We rely on your enlightened leadership and vision to help us cope with the global tests of our time.

Your experience at Northeastern has prepared you for this future. You understand the dynamics of global connectivity in a way previous generations have not.

At Northeastern you explored new ideas, new approaches, and cultures not your own. You did it by interacting with peers who came from different backgrounds and many of you did it through international co-ops, dialogue of civilization, and overseas studies.

When many of you first arrived on campus, the City of Boston was terra incognita – strange land. You challenged yourself to navigate not just a new university, but a new region of the country. Your ability to step out of your comfort zone and succeed is well-honed. Keep it up!

Today you earn more than a diploma. You hold values and sophisticated skills that will allow you to thrive in this global world. Treasure them. Use them with confidence. Do not let them get rusty.

Part II

In his commencement remarks that I mentioned earlier, Senator Kennedy went on to tell the Class of 1956 that “commencement represents not an end but a beginning – not a victory but a challenge.”

To the Class of 2008: Your greatest challenge in the years ahead may very well be adapting with ease to a rapidly changing world where diverse beliefs and ideas, origins, and backgrounds all intersect. It’s an exciting reality that may at times feel overwhelming. Just remember: the core values and skills you acquired at Northeastern will help you succeed. Stay true as alumni to the education and the friendships you nurtured here. And whatever city or country or continent you call home in the future, always think of Northeastern as your permanent home in the world. The world will always be your classroom. And this University, and the knowledge you acquired here, will always be your guiding star.