Leading in a Time of Revolutions

05.07.10

2010 Commencement Remarks by President Joseph E. Aoun

As President of Northeastern University, it is my distinct honor and great privilege to welcome you to the University's 108th commencement exercises.

Graduates: We are proud of you. We salute your accomplishments. We share in your joy. This is a day to celebrate all that you have learned and to anticipate all that you will learn throughout the course of your life.

Parents, families, friends, spouses and partners: This day marks the fulfillment of long-held dreams and aspirations. Graduates, join me in thanking them for the sacrifices and decisions they have made to make this moment possible for you.

Trustees, faculty colleagues and staff: Now is a moment to celebrate and rejoice in the fruits of our work.

Honorary degree recipients: You inspire us with your presence; each one of you has charted your own path, honed your unique talents. Your extraordinary contributions enrich and inspire us all. We are honored to welcome you to Northeastern's family.

At colleges and universities across the nation, commencement marks the moment that graduates enter the "real world." Not here at Northeastern University. From the day you arrived, you immersed yourselves in the world.

Through co-op and experiential learning, you embraced countless opportunities to work, serve, and lead-from Mission Hill to Mumbai.

Many of you have come to me and said how valuable your co-ops and experiential opportunities have been. The truth is, you are about to learn how vital these experiences really are.

This is because you are graduating in a time of unprecedented change around the world-a time of revolutions.

These revolutions are all around us. They are both dizzying and daunting. But they are to be embraced . . . harnessed . . . leveraged.

"These are times in which a genius would wish to live." Those words were written in 1780 by Abigail Adams to her husband John. If only she knew what the world would look like two centuries later.

Today there are knowledge and technological revolutions taking place every second-revolutions that affect the ways we live and interact. Consider the following:

  • There are jobs today that did not exist 10 years ago. Jobs such as "information architect" or "network scientist" to name just two.
  • The number of text messages sent and received every day exceeds the population of the planet.
  • The promises of nanotechnology and gene therapy will transform health care and impact us all.

These revolutions have accelerated the pace of change in the world, leading to fundamental shifts in the prevailing order. During your time at Northeastern University:

  • World economies were tested by a major financial collapse.
  • Natural disasters in China and Haiti prompted global responses.
  • Citizens in the Middle East and Asia used social media to make their voices heard.

These shared global experiences bridge divides, bring people together behind common goals and aspirations, and prepare us to address the global challenges of our time.

They have also brought about a period of unprecedented global interdependence. A volcano erupts in Iceland and people in every corner of the globe are affected: from Sydney to Singapore, from Cape Cod to Cape Town.

I know what many of you are thinking right now. You're sitting there wondering: "What do these revolutions have to do with me?"

Think of it this way: Revolutions need revolutionaries. That is where your generation comes in. You are the "geniuses" of this revolutionary age. You will lead the way.

In doing this, you will have the opportunity to make great contributions to our world. You will nurture the revolutions that advance the human spirit and enhance its condition. You will question the dogmas and false dichotomies that prevent revolutionary change from taking root.

As you navigate the many revolutions of today and tomorrow, I hope you will discover the unbreakable strands of life that bind human beings one to another. I hope you will see that our individual journeys are actually a collective journey. Our ultimate well-being is tied to the well-being of our communities.

You can define "community" however you like-your hometown, your country, or along affinities and causes that inspire you. Your lifelong journey will be complete if you can commit your passion to something larger than yourself-if you can find the harmony that comes from knowing that our individual destinies are linked to the destinies of those around us.

You will bring tremendous assets to this journey. You have the values instilled in you by your families. You have the education you received here at Northeastern University-an education that is experiential, and provides more than static knowledge.

Through the integration of study and practice, you have learned how to think and do-how to lead our world in a time of revolutions.

I wish for each of you more than a life of accomplishments-I wish for each of you a life of fulfillment. In our fast-paced (even chaotic) global society, it is more important than ever to savor those aspects of life that enrich your soul.

Nurture your creative talents. Tend to your beliefs. Serve others. And make plenty of time for the ones you care for. Yours is a generation of abundant choices. But that is a double-edged sword. Focus on things that are true, on things that last. And success will be more than a destination. It will be your way of life.

Charge

When you receive your diplomas today, I hope you'll see them not as mere certificates of attainment, but as passports. Today is not the finish line, but the starting gate.

You have earned much more than diplomas-you have earned the opportunity to solve complex challenges, to serve communities large and small, and to shape our world.

Your degree is your ticket to explore the world and to question what you find. Wherever you are headed, stop and discover new places. Take risks and confront challenges. Explore new ideas and cultures not your own, just as you did at Northeastern University.

Thirty-three years ago, in his commencement address at Northeastern University, Senator Ted Kennedy said: "You did not make the world you live in, but you have the chance to change it, to leave it better than you found it."

That is your charge.

As alumni, stay true to the experiences and friendships you nurtured here. And whatever city or country or continent you call home, always think of Northeastern University as your permanent home in the world. The world will always be your classroom, and the knowledge you acquired here will always be your guiding star.