Commencement address given by Sen. Richard G. Lugar on May 14, 2011 in the Alumni Sports & Fitness Center.
I am honored to join you today for this celebration of the achievements of the graduating class of 2011. I would like to thank interim President John Burness and President Dan Porterfield for their leadership of this College and their hospitality during this joyous weekend.
I congratulate each of our graduates for the hard work that has led to this day, and we encourage you to build on this accomplishment through a personal commitment to never stop learning and never stop seeking the truth.
As you reflect on your college experiences, you should pay special attention to what this celebration means to your loved ones, so many of whom are here to witness this milestone event in your lives. The energy that we all feel on campus today is magnified by parents and grandparents, spouses and children, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and close friends, all of whom are seeing you in a new light.
For many of your family members, this day is a testament to years of loving sacrifice that helped you to seize the opportunities available at Franklin and Marshall. They can see how much hard work you have devoted to your own development. They see the confidence, the knowledge, the friendships -- and they are gratified by what you have done at this university, with these professors. Whereas four or five years ago, your parents may have seen the differences in your interests or style as perplexing, now these differences seem more like something to celebrate. You have become your own person with your own strengths and goals. That is what your parents have wanted all these years. Their feelings of accomplishment, pride, and perhaps relief at seeing you graduate is one of the most meaningful parts of this day.
Like each of our graduates, I had the benefit of a liberal arts education at a small college that expanded my horizons and facilitated lasting friendships. In fact, on September 8 of this year, I will celebrate my 55th anniversary of marriage to my wife, Charlene, who served with me as co-president of the student body at Denison University. While each student may not come away from a college education with such a wonderful additional benefit, I am confident that what you have learned and experienced here at Franklin and Marshall will stimulate your imagination and your ambition for a lifetime.
Liberal arts colleges are devoted to the lofty goal of developing whole people who can navigate the intersections among financial futures, private lives, public duties, and spiritual cores. No other institution in America takes on this ambitious task with such purpose and confidence, and no other institution succeeds at it so routinely.
At the heart of this success is the determination of Franklin and Marshall to put a small number of students into classrooms, laboratories, and workshops, with learned professors who know the students well and can guide their individual educational passions. Increasingly, these passions include an international component that involves study or work abroad. Among the graduates today are individuals who will soon be departing for study and service projects in at least three continents.
No matter where your plans take you, each of you should be proud that you completed your course of study at such a challenging institution that has maintained a commitment to public service since its remarkable founding.
As we gather today, the world is continuing to absorb fundamental changes that are transforming our lives and perspectives. Your class of 2011 will be the last one in which most graduates were born before the fall of the Berlin Wall. That time was very different from today. We were threatened with what seemed like a perpetual arms race, mutual assured destruction, and wars between client states. Even as late as the mid-1980s, few predicted that the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc would undergo a revolution that would bring the downfall of Communism.
Your graduation follows another historic milepost – the death of Osama bin Laden. Like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, President Kennedy’s assassination, or September 11, 2001, itself, many Americans in future years will remember where they were when they heard about the raid in Pakistan. The memory of the news report will be even more vivid for you because of its proximity to your personal historic milestone.
Even as we take pride in the courage and skill of our military and intelligence professionals and hope that this event makes our country safer, part of us also hopes that the death of bin Laden was not the most important thing to happen this month. As necessary and just as it was to confront the world’s most wanted terrorist, we hope that somewhere, someone made an intellectual, scientific, or humanitarian breakthrough, that in the long course of human history, will have an even greater impact than what happened in Pakistan. We hope that some individual or team, perhaps working in obscurity, advanced knowledge in a way that leads to the next chapter of human progress. Perhaps it is a vaccination that saves the lives of millions of people, or biological research that doubles the yield of an important crop, or a concept that further unlocks the mysteries of the human brain.
We hope that in the long run, human history will be defined in terms of what has been constructed and preserved. We want to be remembered not just by what we overcame, but by what we built and passed on to future generations.
At the heart of this quest is education. The current climate of international economic dynamism rewards education above all other commodities. It rewards those with multiple skills who dedicate themselves to a lifetime of learning. The United States will flourish in the global marketplace, if education remains a top priority and if we nurture the competitive genius of the American people that has allowed us time and again to reinvent our economy.
The education of each individual is more consequential than at any time in human history, in part because the tools available to each of us for affecting human welfare – either positively or negatively – are so profound.
The explosion of information technology and social networking capability has made it possible for individuals with an idea to reach a mass audience without ever leaving home. Bloggers armed with internet savvy and their personal experiences are transforming traditional journalism. Writers of fiction and non-fiction books with no connection to a publisher are reaching tens of thousands of readers by making their manuscripts available through e-publishing. Musicians marketing themselves through home-made videos on YouTube are drawing mass audiences and making a living by selling songs on i Tunes and Amazon. There are numerous other examples of individuals who have quickly transcended traditional institutions that used to control and shape public discourse.
This impact is felt in science, the arts, the social sciences, and other endeavors, including world affairs. For example, social media entrepreneurs played a huge role in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Wael Ghonim, a 30-year old internet activist and Google employee from Cairo, is credited by many with maintaining the momentum of the revolution in Egypt.
The social networking phenomenon and the expansion of lightening fast information technology shrinks the world in wonderfully transformative ways that we have not yet fully comprehended. But it also creates enormous challenges for our society. Bin Laden and his acolytes took full advantage of the internet as a franchising agent and motivational tool. The risks that terrorists or rogue countries will obtain weapons of mass destruction are compounded by the information and communication potential of the internet. And our dependence on computers adds cyber-warfare to the list of worries with which our government must contend.
As we deal with such phenomena, we also must be careful not to allow the international reach that is embedded in our PC’s and Mac’s to alienate ourselves from our local communities. In college, participation in a community comes naturally because of the vibrancy and intimacy of the campus environment. Through close living quarters, shared experiences, and rituals, colleges – especially liberal arts colleges like Franklin and Marshall – create tight knit communities. Much of the nostalgia you will feel for your alma mater in ten or twenty years will be grounded in this community experience.
Many of you also have been involved in the remarkable work of the Ware Institute, which has helped to make volunteerism a central component of education at Franklin and Marshall. But when you leave here, it is up to you to recreate this civic dynamic. Even as you reach out to the global community through all the technology you can muster, you must simultaneously find a way to be a contributing member of your neighborhood who runs for the school board, coaches Little League, or volunteers at your community center.
The human spirit possesses a deep reservoir of abilities and energies that can be brought to bear on our conditions. We are never far from transformational events. You have the tools, both academic and technological, to leave your imprint on the world. All of you – whether you plan to continue in school or whether you are about to begin your work career -- should have optimism that the next technological advancement, medical cure, artistic milestone, or landmark policy is just around the corner, waiting to be brought forth or implemented by graduates such as yourselves.
You will find amazing opportunities to work toward the positive transformation of your community, your country, and your world. We welcome you to these challenges. We look forward to all that you will achieve.