Embrace risk, take responsibility, and change the world

I would like to welcome you to the 109th Commencement exercises at Northeastern University.  It is an honor and a privilege to be here with you today.

To our graduates:  It has given all of us great joy to support your transformation from accomplished individuals into even more accomplished scholars, professionals, and human beings.

Many congratulations on all of your achievements.

To our parents, families, friends, spouses and partners:  I know you share in the great happiness of this occasion as deeply as our graduates.

Your guidance, your encouragement, your sacrifices, and your love have helped bring our graduates to this proud moment.  Graduates, please rise.

Let us express our gratitude to all those who have helped you.

To our trustees, alumni, my faculty colleagues, and our staff:  Today is a vivid reminder of what motivates our work as a community.  Our students make Northeastern the vibrant university that it is, and you have helped make our students the dynamic individuals they are.

Thank you.

And to our speakers and honorary degree recipients:  Welcome to the Northeastern family.  Your lives reflect the values that define our University.  Your accomplishments represent the promise that lies within each of our students.  Thank you for joining us today.

This year’s commencement holds a special significance for me.  Like most of you who are graduating today, I also arrived at Northeastern five years ago.

We have experienced much together.  We have seen our campus become more diverse, with many more students coming to us from all over the world.

We have expanded co-op by infusing it with hundreds of new global opportunities.  You and your peers have worked in 160 cities, in 69 countries, and all seven continents – including Antarctica.

We have empowered you to immerse yourselves in the world.  We did this by design, for one powerful reason.

We knew that your future success will turn on your ability to navigate the landscape of a diverse world.

More than ever before, changes throughout the world will affect you directly – and you will have the power to affect the world.

The rise of new economic powers, the educational advancement of different nations, the explosion of knowledge – all of these can be viewed either as barriers to or opportunities for your futures.

But how you view the world depends on your state of mind.

If you see the world only through your own lens – if you define others in opposition to you – then it is likely that you will perceive these developments as obstacles.

But if you can broaden your point of view – if you can navigate the world as a global citizen – then what others see as challenges will be opportunities for you.

A global citizen is someone who has more than knowledge about the world.

It is someone who has the ability to embrace difference, instead of rejecting it.

A global citizen is someone who has an open mind and can integrate the perspectives of others into their own perspective.

In many ways, the purpose of your journey at Northeastern has been to become a global citizen.

Through your classes and scholarship, your co-ops, your activities on campus and your service to our communities, you have achieved that goal.

Now, you are poised to begin new journeys in which each of you, in a thousand different ways, will be faced with the distinctive challenge of your generation: creating harmony in a world of ever-increasing diversity.

It will be your task to find security in the face of conflict; promote health in the face of sickness; and assure the sustainability of the planet in the face of scarcity.

I do believe you are ready to meet these challenges, in whatever form they may come.  Each of you will have the capacity to make great contributions to the lives of your fellow men and women.

The problems of our age may seem daunting, but as innovators and entrepreneurs, you can be the ones to solve them.  You have the power to forge new tools and shape new solutions.

In the past, I have encouraged you to take risks.

Do not play it safe now.  You must rise above the urge to settle for the status quo.

You are the vanguard of a new world – a world that is yet to be made.

To paraphrase Leonardo daVinci, it is not enough to be aware of the world’s challenges, or merely to be willing to address them.

Go forward today with an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset.

Be filled with the urgency of doing.


Class of 2011, this is my charge to you.  Through their lives and accomplishments, each of our honorary degree recipients represents the message I want to convey.  In fact, Bert and John Jacobs have summed it up in their mottos.

Do what you like, and like what you do.  Let your passion be the fuel that drives your work – and let your compassion be the force that makes it valuable to the world.

Jump in and take risks.  Only by taking risks can you truly know how far you can go.

Next, Go places.  Continue to explore the world.  By exploring the world, you will discover yourselves.  By endeavoring to know others, you will enhance you own understanding of who you really are.

And finally, Let the music move you. As you travel on your journey, keep your minds open to the music of existence.  Enjoy yourselves and every experience the world has to offer.

Why?  Because Life is good.

Congratulations, graduates!