of Maryland University College Commencement Address
(As prepared for delivery)
It is an honor to be with you on this special day at the University of Maryland University College in Heidelberg.
The University of Maryland University College has a proud tradition of serving America’s military. It has been providing quality academic programs and services to members of the U.S. military communities overseas since 1949. The university started planning the delivery of these services in 1947, inspired perhaps by what is probably the most famous commencement speech of all times --the announcement by Secretary of State George Marshall of the Marshall Plan at Harvard.
Over the years, no other American university has been prepared to do as much or go as far for the members of the armed forces. UMUC has provided innovative, flexible, quality educational options to military personnel during crisis situations in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, and most recently, Afghanistan. I would like to commend the outstanding faculty who devote their professional lives to making the University of Maryland University College a place of excellence and achievement. It has required a large measure of commitment and dedication, and often, real courage.
On this day, however, we honor the Class of 2006. You, like your university, are exceptional. Many of you graduating today have combined your studies with active-duty military service or fulltime civilian jobs. It has taken personal discipline, stamina, and a sense of purpose to carry through. Congratulations on a job well done. As the President’s representative in Germany, I convey to you the personal best wishes of the Commander-in-Chief.
I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of all Americans, to thank the men and women in our armed forces. In these years of challenge, our people in uniform have done their duty with all the skill and the honor we expect of them.
We live in an age of unparalleled technological progress, freedom and prosperity. We have put men and women into space, learned how to transplant hearts and to condense a library full of books onto one tiny chip. In Europe, people survived the imposition of totalitarianism behind the Iron Curtain and then launched one of the most important and peaceful revolutions in history by tearing down the Berlin Wall and restoring democracy to all of Europe. But we also live at a time of unprecedented danger and instability. Changes, both good and bad, are occurring at an ever faster pace in the 21st century. We live in a brand new world, with new versions of political upheaval, global pandemic, world war and religious polarization.
How can we cope with the global tests of our times? Wise people -- like George Marshall -- had the foresight and wisdom to create a web of multilateral institutions that rescued Europe and Asia from the ashes of war and created the security and prosperity that defined the latter half of the twentieth century. That example can help us to answer today's global challenges. We need to re-energize the relationships with our major allies and with the great multilateral institutions that play such an important role in organizing the world.
The Transatlantic has suffered growing pains as we enter the 21st Century. However, I believe that we are now elevating the U.S.-EU strategic partnership to a new level as we deal with the global threats posed by terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, failed states, and repressive regimes. These challenges have required the design and implementation of new financial, law enforcement, intelligence, and military options. Working through these dramatic changes has not been easy, but transatlantic cooperation is essential.
That is why the first order of business for President Bush in his second term of office was to re-affirm the common agenda of the transatlantic partnership. Both the German-American and the broader EU relationship has improved considerably because of an increased emphasis on discussion and dialogue. It started with President Bush’s trip to Mainz and Brussels in February 2005, and under Chancellor Merkel's leadership, momentum has picked up.
Chancellor Merkel has visited the United States twice in her first months in office, and I have personally observed the strong relationship these two leaders have developed. Upon Chancellor Merkel’s invitation, President Bush will visit Germany in July. The two leaders talk regularly on the phone. Chancellor Merkel is an impressive person, and in her meetings with President Bush, in which I have also been present, I see the good rapport and constructive interaction between these two leaders. Chancellor Merkel is skillful in seeking pragmatic solutions to difficult issues – taking into account the interests of all parties while sticking to her ideals. She works well with President Bush.
At every level, we're seeing a substantial upswing in governmental visits and consultations, evidence that the German-American relationship is moving forward.
We need to keep working together to bring about a diplomatic solution to Iran's dangerous pursuit of nuclear weapons technology. We must find ways to end the violence in Darfur, to improve conditions in Iraq, and to bring Palestinians back into the peace process with Israel, NATO and Afghanistan. We should use this historic moment in the German-American relationship to finish the Doha Round of world trade negotiations and to combat poverty, HIV/AIDS, and other problems that don't always grab the headlines. The agenda is broad. A strong partnership between America and Europe is essential to create a world that is more prosperous and more secure.
Ladies and gentlemen, nations are effective on the world stage in direct proportion to the talents, wisdom and experience of their leaders -- and their citizens. This is where you graduates come in. Your contributions as individuals are vital to our common future. History has shown, time and time again, that one single, determined individual can make a difference. Every challenge surmounted by your energy; every problem solved by your wisdom; every soul stirred by your passion; and every barrier to justice brought down by your determination will ennoble your own life, inspire others, serve your country, and expand the boundaries of what is achievable on this earth.
This is a world that needs the skills, the values and the experiences that you bring to it as educated people. The diploma you are about to receive comes with certain "rights, responsibilities and privileges." I am sure that you are looking forward to the rights and privileges, but let's concentrate for a few minutes on the responsibilities.
You have an obligation to search for the truth. You have learned how to inquire, how to assess and analyze. You have learned the value of reasoned debate and the role of doubt in reaching a judgment. You have a responsibility to seek out those who do not think like you do. You may be forced to rethink some of the ideas you think are givens. Scientists and engineers do this every day by testing boundaries and exploring new frontiers. The vision of innovation is, however, not limited to molecules and machines. New ideas are the lifeblood of our society. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it this way: "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." When we question and challenge old ways in order to imagine and create new ones, we can move the whole world in a direction that makes it better. That is what innovation is all about.
In this time of rapid, constant change, we individuals must prepare ourselves to be more adaptive. Continuing education and lifelong learning are vital keys to adaptability. That you have undertaken the challenge of taking this degree indicates that you understand this need.
Gone are the days when we were raised simply to execute the ideas of others. Now we must be active participants in managing continuous change.
I recently made a very dramatic change to my life plan. In early 2005, President Bush asked me to serve as Ambassador to Germany. I was 66 years old at the time. Retirement and spending more time with my family and on various charitable initiatives was next on my personal agenda. But I decided that I owed it to my country to heed the call of the President. My country had given me extraordinary opportunities. It was incumbent upon me to give something back. A few months later, my wife Sue and I were in Berlin, at the start of a new journey in government and public life that neither of us had ever imagined. Diplomatic experience is new for me but I believe that NOT being part of a Washington bureaucracy gives me a special perspective in the job. I am proud to play a role in strengthening the bonds between America and Germany.
My final piece of advice is to look for those opportunities to give something back. I, for one, have led a most fortunate life. I have been blessed with a supporting family, excellent educational opportunities, and a satisfying, challenging career. But I have always followed one principle – to put more into the pot than what I take out. That’s why I have always been a strong supporter of civic and community involvement. Never ask why someone else has been given more. Ask why you have been given so much.
This day of ceremony is a marker of gifts well used, aspirations fulfilled, hard work rewarded. It's been my privilege to share it with you and your families. Once again, my congratulations to the Class of 2006 on a job well done. I wish you a future that is challenging and rewarding, a future that provides you every opportunity to create the life -- and the world -- you imagine, a future that lets your spirits soar. Best wishes to you all.
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Diplomatic Mission to Germany
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Updated: August 2006