Celebrating the Next Generation of Active and Engaged Global Citizens

Winter Commencement
Assembly Hall
IU Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana
December 19, 2015

Introduction: Graduates with a Sense of Public Responsibility

Dr. Rivlin, Trustees, Provost Robel, honored guests and colleagues, and members of the Class of 2015:

In September 1963, President John F. Kennedy addressed a capacity crowd at a joint convocation of two small liberal arts colleges in the state of Washington. With Mount Rainier soaring in the background, President Kennedy spoke about the need for education of the highest quality and the purposes of higher education.

He said that the indispensable mission of the nation’s colleges and universities is, in his words: “to produce all of the educated talent that we have, not merely to help them along, not merely to produce outstanding business (leaders), lawyers, and doctors—though we need them—but also to produce men and women with a sense of public responsibility (and) public duty.”1

Active and Engaged Global Citizens

Today, as you graduate from Indiana University, the need for talented and well-educated men and women like you, in these and many other positions, is as urgent and as pressing as it was in Kennedy’s era—perhaps today even more so.

But as President Kennedy also noted, preparing you to fill these important roles is not the sole purpose of higher education. Universities like IU must also seek to produce graduates with a sense of public responsibility and of public duty.

Members of the Class of 2015, you have been preparing for years to take your place as active, engaged and committed global citizens in democratic society.

Driven by the sense of public responsibility that President Kennedy described—and inspired by the examples of distinguished IU alumni past and present—some of you may go on to serve in elected or appointed office at the local, state, or federal level.

Others of you may take action to build a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world by serving with the State Department, the Civil Service, or the Peace Corps—as Secretary of State John Kerry encouraged our students to do during his recent visit here to open our new School of Global and International Studies.

Many more of you will serve society in less formal, but equally important ways. You will become actively involved in communities and places across this country and around the world, working with great commitment to improve the quality of life for your fellow citizens and people from all backgrounds. Having earned your education at a university where vigorous dialogue and the free and open exchange of ideas are among our most central principles, we trust that you will also actively participate in the political process by exercising your rights to vote, to petition the government when needed, and to express your views, forthrightly if necessary but always civilly.

Active and engaged citizens value universal human rights and the rule of law.

They embrace diversity and are committed to inclusiveness—values that are also fundamental to Indiana University’s mission.

Nearly a quarter of the members of today’s graduating class are first generation college students, many of whom are members of under-represented minority groups and some of whom come from low-income families. Many of these students have overcome enormous obstacles to achieve success—and through the examples they have set and through their mentorship of future students, they will help to ensure that many others follow in their footsteps in growing numbers.

Engaging the World, Broadening Horizons

Indiana University’s commitment to attracting and welcoming students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds, races and beliefs from around the state, across the country, and throughout the world is a core value of Indiana University that has never been more necessary than in these troubled times.

As all of you are undoubtedly aware, in recent weeks and months, we have witnessed a spate of terrorist attacks around the world—including the recent deadly shootings in California. Whenever heinous acts of barbarism such as these are perpetrated on innocent victims, there is a tendency to want to draw closer to one another, to put up barricades, to retreat from the larger world. The reality, however, is that in today’s global society that is deeply interconnected, isolating one’s self from all the richness the rest of the world has to offer but also from its grave and serious challenges—is neither possible nor prudent.

As the next generation of engaged and committed global citizens, it is essential that you are able to understand and appreciate cultural differences and to work productively with people from different cultures and traditions—as you will likely do throughout your entire careers.

More than a quarter of those of you who graduate today have spent time studying and serving abroad, and, for many of you, those experiences have been life-changing. They have broadened your horizons and prepared you to succeed in our increasingly interconnected world.

Also among the approximately 2,000 students who graduate today are more than 400 international students from 47 different countries. Some of you will undoubtedly make your careers in the United States, bringing your talents and drive to this country as so many have before you. Others will return to your home countries where you will become leaders in business, industry, the arts and sciences, higher education, and government, following the examples of many successful international IU graduates. Your presence on the Bloomington campus has allowed your fellow students from Indiana and around the world to learn more about other perspectives, other customs and traditions, and has opened all of our minds to new ways of understanding.

The Class of 2015

Many of you who graduate today have already helped to improve the quality of life for members of this community and citizens of the world during your time as students at Indiana University.

One member of today’s graduating class in IU’s Kelley School of Business led a revitalization of the IU chapter of Net Impact—a group that brings together students and professional leaders to create positive social and environmental change in the workplace and around the world.

Many of you have helped to raise money for IU scholarships through your participation in one of our great traditions, the Little 500. You have raised record amounts—more than $3.8 million this year alone—in support of the Riley Hospital for Children through the participation of thousands of you in the 25th IU Dance Marathon. This superb event is one of the largest philanthropic events of its kind at any university anywhere in the country.

Today’s graduating class also includes IU football’s all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns, quarterback Nate Sudfeld. Nate led the Hoosiers to victory over Purdue for the third time in a row to retain the Old Oaken Bucket. And this ensured the appearance of the Hoosiers in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium next Saturday—their first bowl appearance in eight years.

But Nate also led in a far different area this year through his personal commitment to service when he spent Spring Break in Uganda with Assist International, the humanitarian organization founded by his maternal grandparents and now led by his father. The organization installs water filtration units, constructs schools and orphanages, and works to improve medical care in Uganda and elsewhere in the developing world.

Conclusion: Times that Demand "Invention, Innovations, Imagination"

In 1960, when President Kennedy accepted his party’s nomination for President, he noted that the uncharted areas of science and space were before us, that unsolved problems of peace and war confronted us, that unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice persisted, and that we faced unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.

“It would be easier,” Kennedy said, “to shrink back… to look to the safe mediocrity of the past. But,” he said, “I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. For courage—not complacency—is our need today—leadership—not salesmanship.”2

Members of the class of 2015, on this wonderful day of celebration, as you commence your journeys towards broader horizons, this is a time to embrace your responsibilities as active and engaged citizens of the world. For if not you, who else will step forward? Who else will grasp the challenges before the world with resolution but with wisdom born of years of study and reflection?

This is a time for courage and leadership.

This is a time for you to rise to the challenges of the present as you help create a better global future.

Congratulations and Best Wishes to the Class of 2015.

Source Notes

  1. Remarks of President John F. Kennedy at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington, delivered September 27, 1963, The American Presidency Project, Web, Accessed December 14, 2015, URL: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=9439
  2. John F Kennedy, Democratic National Convention Nomination Acceptance Address.  Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, delivered July 15, 1960.