Monsieur le Ministre Jean-Yves Le Drian, Monsieur l’Ambassadeur Gérard Araud, Monsieur le Consul Général Arnaud Mentré, Excellencies, dear friends.

Bienvenus à Northeastern.

Monsieur le Ministre, je suis très honoré de recevoir la légion d’honneur.

Je suis surtout honoré de la recevoir d’un éducateur qui croit á l’importance de l’éducation publique et d’une personnalité politique universellement respectée.

Les Bretons sont forts et ardents. Monsieur le Ministre vous représentez fièrement le caractère breton.

En tant que Ministre de la Défence vous avez rassemblé une coalítion internationale pour contrecarrer le terrorisme. Et en tant que Ministre pour l’Europe des Affaires Étrangères, vous continuez de poursuivre le multilatéralisme qui a bien servi la France et le monde.

Monsieur le Ministre vous représentez les principes qui m’ont guidés toute ma vie. Permettez-moi de m’expliquer.

My Journey

I was raised in Lebanon in a bilingual family.

I used to dream in French and be scolded in Lebanese.

I went to a French school from the age of 5.

There I learned to add in French, subtract in Arabic, divide in Latin and multiply in English.

In my high school I was moved by Ronsard and grappled with Beaudelaire.

I sided with Voltaire until I sided with Rousseau.

In college, my bilingual upbringing led me to study linguistics as a window to the richness of the human mind.

France shaped my intellect, my culture, and my values. I knew France intimately before I ever had the chance to visit it.

Enlightenment made me cherish liberty, value equality and pursue fraternity.

When I moved to France to continue my studies, those values became real. I experienced them. I lived them.

Being accepted in France made me realize that those values are built by, and are a reflection of community. It also made me realize the centrality of fraternity.

Fraternity is what unites us, what brings us together.

Without fraternity, there is no equality. Without fraternity, there is no liberty.

This truth became even more clear to me when I came to the U.S. Moving here was different. I didn’t master the history, the language, or the culture.

Once again, I found a place and a community that embraced me, treated me as an equal, and gave me freedom to learn, to grow, and to be who I am today.

Fraternity must be universal, for we live in a global community.

Humanity in a time of robots

As I learned in my own journey, transitions are enriching but not easy.

Always better in retrospect than in the moment.

Our world is in transition. Machines are challenging us, and technology is disrupting employment, and replacing people.

People are afraid. They are isolating themselves and closing their minds. That is where education is paramount.

A university’s mandate is to open people’s minds.

And help them realize, as Montaigne said, that:
“Every person bears the whole stamp of the human condition.”
“Chaque homme porte la forme entière de la condition humaîne.”

A university cannot reflect society as it is. It is a model of what society can be.

In this age of artificial intelligence, we humans have an advantage over machines. We are compassionate, creative, imaginative, empathetic, and diverse.

We can laugh. We can cry. We can love.

Those attributes cannot be duplicated by machines, and the human fraternity is our greatest advantage.

At Northeastern, we strive to cultivate these uniquely human attributes.

We seek to teach our students to think and do.

Or, as Henri Bergson put it, we seek to empower our students, to:
“Act as people of thought and think as people of action.”
“Agir en homme de pensée et penser en homme d’action.”

And we do this through global experiential learning.

Experience requires fraternity.

Together, we learn to strive for prosperity, health, security, and sustainability.

And together we reach for the higher laurels of creation and enlightenment.

M. le minister, today you are not honoring me, you are honoring my family and every person who shaped, impacted, and supported me on my journey.

You are honoring our Northeastern community, and our global fraternity.