|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Commencement Address for the University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona, May 15, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman, May 18, 1999
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: President Likins, Dr. De Sanctis, Mr. Vereen; members of the Class of 1999 and your families; alumni, faculty and other members of the University of Arizona community, thank you for that wonderful birthday and for the honorary degree, which I will cherish, and for the birthday greeting, which I will never, never forget.
It is a pleasure to be here in this arena of champions to share this day with you.
As student, professor, mother and guest, I have attended many graduations, and have to confess that I love them. I'm always impressed by the diversity in the students' faces, which seem to grow -- and are -- younger every year. I am fond of the academic surroundings, the great music, the elegance of the caps and gowns -- not to mention the tortillas, which is something new to me.
(Cheering and applause.)
Let's get them.
And although it will be easier for you today than for me, graduations provide a welcome chance to daydream during the commencement speech.
Class of '99, I will not tell you this afternoon that you will never again have as much fun as you've had during the past four years, because that would depress you. I will not lecture you about your social habits, for that is your parents' job. And I will not place the weight of the world upon your shoulders, for that will happen soon enough.
I will urge you to enjoy the moment and celebrate the day, for graduation is one of the five great milestones in life; the others being birth, death, marriage and the day you finally pay off your student loan.
(Laughter and applause.)
I will also urge you to aim high. Your President Likins would not have made the College Wrestling Hall of Fame if he had not been committed to excellence. And the Arizona Wildcats would not have won the NCAA title if they had been willing to settle for second best.
(Cheering and applause.)
Now, when I was your age, I never dreamed of becoming Secretary of State, but that may have been because I had never seen a Secretary of State wearing a skirt.
But you graduate at a time and in a place where there is no narrowness of vision, no lack of freedom, no shortage of resources, no absence of opportunities that would bar you from realizing your potential and promise.
More than any previous generation, you will live global lives. You will compete in a world marketplace. Through technology and travel, you will be able to forge close ties with people from every part of every region of every continent. To succeed, you will be required to look outward because, more and more, what happens anywhere will matter everywhere.
Today, we know that developments in the Balkans can influence the lives of soldiers and reservists and their families from Arizona. Economic trends in Asia or Latin America can affect the number of customers for Arizona computers and copper, and the number of visitors to the wonderful Grand Canyon.
(Inaudible comments and jeering.)
Hey, guys, this is your graduation; let's get on.
And our response to natural disasters and poverty to our south can affect the amount of drugs on the streets of Phoenix and Tucson and the flow of undocumented aliens across our borders.
That is why when we help our neighbors, we help ourselves.
Last fall, Central America suffered the worst hurricanes of this century. Thousands died; hundreds of thousands lost their homes. They needed our aid and last February, President Clinton asked Congress to provide it on an emergency basis.
Next week, Congress will finally vote; and I hope you agree, we should say "yes" to helping the people of Honduras and Nicaragua to recover and rebuild.
We should say "yes" to helping them provide a bright future for their citizens at home.
More broadly, in the years head, your challenge and the challenge of us all will be to guide the process of change so that the benefits of technology and trade are shared by the many, not monopolized by the privileged few.
Together, we must strive for a global economy that rewards enterprise and respects basic rights. This is important because I suspect you are 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-paid, under coercion or in prison.
We Americans cannot and will not accept a global economy that rewards the lowest bidder without regard to standards. We want a future where profits come from perspiration and inspiration, not exploitation.
We must also do all we can to advance the status of women, because no country can grow strong and free --
(Cheering and applause.)
-- no country can grow strong and free when denied the talents of half its people.
In years past, we have made enormous progress. But today around the world, terrible abuses are still being committed against women. These include domestic violence, dowry murders, mutilation and the exploitation of the young. Some say all this is cultural and there's nothing we can do about it. I say it's criminal and we each have an obligation to stop it.
Now, I don't expect any of you to be perfect. We are all human. And as St. Augustine prayed when he was roughly your age, "Lord, grant me chastity and continence -- but not yet."
However, I do want you to challenge yourself and not settle for second best, either in what you achieve or in how you achieve it. I urge you to have principles and to stick with them. I urge you to consider careers where you can make a world of difference worldwide; careers in development or food production or the Peace Corps or the US Foreign Service, where we need people with a broad range of expertise.
Above all, I urge you to have faith in your ability to help forge a future better than the past.
But as you aim high, do not forget to leave room for others. Do not fall into the trap of intolerance.
I happen to be someone who was born not in this country, but in what was then called Czechoslovakia. I am female, Caucasian, somewhat height-challenged and, as you now know, a Taurus.
Each of you could provide your own list of personal characteristics. These kinds of distinctions, or at least some of them, do make a difference. For it is natural that we should feel kinship for those with whom we have something in common. Solidarity with others can help redress social grievances, and respect for heritage helps us to preserve identity and honor the past.
But as we have been so tragically reminded in recent months, when pride in "us" descends into hatred of "them," the grounds for pride vanish and terrible violence can result.
In my job, I have seen the heart-rending consequences in places such as Bosnia and Rwanda, the Middle East and now a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
America is right to oppose intolerance abroad.
We are right to help Israelis and Palestinians in their search for peace.
We are right in speaking up for religious freedom and the ability of minorities to preserve their cultures, whether in China or Burma or Russia or Iran.
We are right in trying to hold war criminals accountable and to see that those who consider rape just another tactic of war pay for their crimes.
And we are right in standing with NATO against the killing of innocent people in the Balkans.
But we must do more, for we must also strive to eliminate the strains of intolerance that have tarnished our own history and linger still. We must always work for a better America. For we are never stronger, either overseas or here at home, than when we come together across racial and ethnic lines.
We're all proud of the groups to which we belong, but it's what comes after the hyphen in European-American, African-American, Latino-American, Asian-American or any other kind of American that truly matters.
After the tornadoes in Oklahoma, we didn't reach out to help our neighbors as hyphenated-Americans. After what happened at Littleton, we did not grieve and search our souls as hyphenated-Americans. After the killing began in Kosovo, our servicemen and women did not answer NATO's call as hyphenated-Americans.
We are different, one from the other. But we are bound together by a single premise: that every individual counts. We each have a right to be judged not by where we come from or by who our parents are, but by our own actions and character.
That is the principle that defines and elevates our country at its best. That is the key to our identity as a nation. That is the basis for our leadership around the world.
Members of the Class of 1999, the future will not be governed by the alignment of the stars or by impersonal forces of history. It will be the sum of your choices -- our choices -- that will determine the kind of America and the kind of world in which we live.
It is up to each of us, in our own way, to contribute to this country and to our shared community; to be doers, not doubters; to use our wonderful technology to save lives and enrich life; and to keep America the world's leading force for security and peace, justice and law.
As I look at you -- our graduates here this afternoon -- I am confident that our nation will be equal to any challenge. For you are the inheritors of a proud tradition. Within each of you, there is excellence of body and mind, soul and spirit. However dormant or latent it might sometimes seem, this excellence is part of the package with which you arrived in this life, and which has been nurtured by those who love you and by this university. From this day forward, set that spirit free; astonish us; inspire us; and make us even prouder of you tomorrow than we are today.
Congratulations, and thank you once again for letting me share this very special moment in your lives.
Cheers to the Class of '99.
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