|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Commencement Address at the University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland, May 22, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you all very, very much. Thank you, Doctor Kirwan, Dr. Langenberg, Mr. Billingsley, Reverend Doctor Moone, Mr. Fry, Mr. Katz, fellow honoree Dick Moe, a very close friend, graduates, parents, members of the faculty, and members of the entire University of Maryland family. I'm delighted to be here and honored that you asked me to share this very special day with you. Except there are so many people, I feel as if I should have brought a basketball or a guitar.
Dr. Kirwan, I would like to wish you the very best as you move on to Ohio State University and I hope that you will invite me there. I‘d be very pleased to come back. Now I understand that there was a rumor going around for awhile that your commencement speaker this year would be Oprah Winfrey. Well, looks are sometimes deceiving, but I have to admit that I'm not Oprah. For those who may be disappointed, all I can say is that if it would help, I will be very happy to recommend some books, and I promise not to have any meat for lunch.
To the class of 1998, I offer my heartfelt congratulations. Today is a day to celebrate. Today is the payoff for all the late nights in the library and the long hours studying. Graduation is one of the five great milestones in life. The others are birth, marriage, death and the day you finally pay off your student loan.
In the years ahead, you will look back upon this ceremony and realize that it was on this date May 22nd, 1998 that you began to forget everything you learned in college. You will find slipping from your mind the painfully memorized names of dead European kings, 18th century composers and the various body parts of dissected frogs. But as your hopes for hitting the jackpot on Jeopardy fade, you will find the deeper aspects of the education you have received here will endure.
The University of Maryland is not just a factory for processing students and issuing degrees. It's as large as a small city and virtually as broad in its intellectual and social sweep as humanity itself. This institution is almost two centuries old and your mascot is a terrapin, but your pace is fast-forward and your eyes and minds are on the future.
Each of you who receives a degree today will be asked, as time goes on, to choose: To live your lives narrowly, selfishly and for the moment, or to direct actions towards a higher purpose; whether inspired by religious faith, political conviction, social awareness or a combination of those things.
The choice you make will determine the richness of your own lives and it will shape the world of the 21st Century. I'm confident that the experience you have gained at this university will help you all to make the right choice.
This morning, I would like to talk a little bit about the choices faced by our nation: for nations, like people, must choose. And we are privileged to live in a country that has chosen, through most of this century, to lead. So that, today, we are helping to shape events in every region on every continent in every corner of the world.
We exercise this leadership not out of sentiment, but out of necessity. For we Americans want to live, and we want our children to live, in peace, prosperity and freedom. But as the new century draws near, we cannot guarantee these blessings for ourselves if others don't have them as well.
That is why, at President Clinton's direction, we are strengthening the ties that bind the world's leading democracies, so that the heart of the international community will beat steady and free. To enrich that community, we are lending a hand to nations struggling to create democratic societies, emerge from poverty or recover from conflict. To protect it, we're standing up to aggressors and criminals who would run roughshod over the rights of others. To modernize it, we are building new institutions and adapting old ones so that we may master the demands of this dynamic world not as it has been, but as it is and will be.
Finally, we are refusing to settle for the status quo. Abroad, as at home, we are pursuing higher standards in the marketplace and workplace, and the classroom and courtroom, so that the benefits of growth and the protections of law are shared not only by the lucky few, but by the hardworking many. The efforts we make to build security, generate prosperity and extend freedom are not separate, but reinforcing, for progress towards one means progress towards all.
Two days ago, at the Coast Guard Academy, I spoke of the steps we are taking to build security. Today, I want to focus on how we use our foreign policy to generate prosperity. Now, I want to warn you in advance that this is not the most humorous subject in the world, but I address it because, as a former professor, I take commencement speeches seriously, and because the issues involved will have a direct impact on your lives.
Of course, it may be that, for you, prosperity is not a concern. You may have already designed a new software product, which will enable you to supplant Bill Gates. Perhaps the NBA -- or the WNBA -- is begging you to sign a contract. Maybe you had the good sense a couple of decades ago to choose really wealthy parents.
But we know that you didn't hit the POWERBALL Wednesday night, and so the chances are that, like most people, you will start your new life with at least some uncertainty about jobs, wages and economic security. If so, you will want to see a strong and growing world economy that will create good opportunities for you and for your generation.
Under President Clinton, we are doing everything we can to see that wish fulfilled. We are striving to build a global economic system that is characterized by open markets, open investment, open communications and open trade. During the past five years, President Clinton has helped the international community take enormous strides in the right direction -- creating the World Trade Organization and forging landmark agreements on telecommunications, information technology, and financial services.
We have broadened our economic ties to Europe, gained historic commitments for free trade and investment across the Asian Pacific and within our own hemisphere; and created a new foundation for economic partnership with Africa. We're taking these steps because we believe that the lessons learned here at home about free markets, freedom of information and freedom of economic choice are valid everywhere.
And we see that exports are creating more and better jobs in Maryland's industrial and high-tech sectors, and generating more business for ports like Baltimore. Nationwide, exports are responsible for one-third of the remarkable economic growth we have enjoyed these past five years.
Now, it used to be that you could tell where a product was made by the materials out of which it was fabricated -- cotton from America -- the American South, wool from northern Europe, silk from China, and so on. It used to be that workers competed primarily against those in the factory across town or in the next state. It used to be that nearly all capital was reinvested in the country where it was earned.
None of that is true now. Technology has made it possible to build, manufacture, transport and invest in almost anything almost anywhere. This new global economy carries with it many challenges, for it means that you who graduate today will be required constantly to master new technologies and upgrade your skills.
The same will be true for all facets of our economy, from the builders of cars to the sellers of insurance to the growers of wheat. Inevitably, some industries will prosper in this competition, while others fall behind. But as in any period of rapid change, there will be turbulence and uncertainty about what tomorrow may bring.
That's why President Clinton has placed such emphasis on fiscal discipline, regulatory reform, worker re-training, high standards in schools and other measures that help America keep its competitive edge. But the Administration is determined to do more than that. Because we are such a large part of the global economy, we want that economy to reflect our values. We want it to be increasingly democratic, just, fair and humane.
In recent decades, as trade has expanded and more liberal investment rules have been applied, the benefits have been widespread. The world's economy has become more efficient. Vast new markets have emerged. Tens of millions of people have lifted themselves out of poverty.
All this is to the good, but deeply-rooted challenges remain. Among the most dramatic of these is child labor. And by child labor, I don't mean kids delivering newspapers, helping out around the farm, or serving as a batboy or batgirl for the Orioles. I'm talking about eight- and nine-year-olds working long hours in assembly plants, under unsafe conditions; and about children chained to carpet looms, turning out rugs that will sell for thousands while they make only pennies.
As Americans, we cannot accept a global economy that rewards the lowest bidder without regard to basic standards. That would not be fair to our workers; it would retard social progress; and it would betray values of decency and fairness that we cherish.
I suspect you're like me. When we buy a blouse or a shirt, we want to know that it was not produced by people who were under-age, under coercion, in prison or denied their right to organize. When we buy household items, we want to know their manufacture did not poison air, land, rivers or sea.
And that is why we must do all we can to shape the rules of the new global economy in a way that will improve our quality of life and that of others around the world. And I'm pleased to say that America is at the forefront of such efforts.
We're working through the International Labor Organization to raise core worker standards, and we have proposed increasing our contribution to its anti-child labor program by a factor of ten.
We are using our influence within the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to see that the human and environmental impacts of financial and trade arrangements are considered more seriously. And we are encouraging multinational corporations to develop and observe Model Business Principles, as many U.S. firms already have.
As long as I am Secretary of State and if I behave myself, I am the last Secretary of State of the 20th Century -- I can assure you that we will use our diplomacy to help build a world where Americans are prosperous and where global norms of worker rights and environmental protection rise, so that profits increasingly result from inspiration and perspiration, not exploitation.
We make progress towards these goals by pushing for ever more open and fair rules of investment and trade, accompanied by high standards. But we must also reach out to countries that need and deserve our help to break free from the stranglehold of poverty and underdevelopment.
There was a time when the concept of development was expressed primarily in concrete and steel. We would build a road, lay a pipeline, or construct a dam. Today, our emphasis has shifted. During President Clinton's recent trip to Africa and last month's Summit of the Americas in Chile the focus was squarely on people.
And let me say how refreshing it was for me personally during the Summit to listen to dozens of world leaders asking precisely the right questions. How do we use the information superhighway to help children in remote villages learn? How do we ensure that women have access to decent health care, to credit and to justice under the law? How do we expand the use of technologies that are friendly to the environment? How do we forge partnerships of business and labor and academics and NGOs and government to build strong societies that can participate in the global economy and repel the threats posed by criminals and corruption?
As we look to the 21st Century, the United States has a strong interest in seeing these questions answered successfully. We know that 90 percent of the world's population growth is in the less-developed world and that our own prosperity will increasingly hinge on access to new and promising overseas markets. And that is why we are asking Congress and the American people to support the efforts we are making to help other countries build democracy and nurture prosperity. You know, the truth is: Foreign policy is not foreign; it is what we all live with and reflects on our lives. These programs may not sound glamorous, but they make a real difference.
To cite just one example: For years, the United States has been the world's leading outside supporter of human rights, legal aid and environmental organizations in Indonesia. Today, those groups are poised to play an indispensable role in helping their country make a peaceful transition to democracy.
Indonesia's future depends on the ability of its leaders and its people to move forward together, to achieve far-reaching political reform based on democratic principles, to get their economy back on its feet, and to refrain from acts of coercion and violence.
Indonesia's course will be determined, as it should and must be, by Indonesians alone. But the United States will continue to do what it can to assist those within Indonesia who are working for democracy, tolerance and law. Because of Indonesia's size and importance, that is a smart thing for us to do. It is also the right thing.
Members of the class of 1998: Today, you graduate into a world of accelerating and astonishing change, where technological breakthroughs occur daily, trends may disappear in a week, and events of just a few years ago can seem like ancient history.
But some things have not changed: the delicious taste of Maryland crab; the brilliance of Maryland lacrosse; the excellence of this University; and the purpose of America. And as Maryland's nickname reflects, that purpose is: freedom.
This morning, let us celebrate our freedom, as we look forward with confidence to the new century, and to new careers, commitments and friendships. Let us resolve also to be worthy of that freedom, to serve our community and our country; to be doers, not doubters; to provide for ourselves while never forgetting our obligation to others.
The21st Century is yours to shape. And as I look out at you now, I could not imagine it to be in better hands. Good luck, Class of 1998. Godspeed and go get ‘em.
[End of Document]
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