Each and everyone of you is an accomplished individual.You leave today with your Global MBA degree in hand.Your Global MBA marks your achievement and we celebrate that achievement here today.
As important as this degree is, however, what really counts today is not so much the degree but the road that brought you here and the journey which lies ahead.
You are exceptional people. The fact that most of you chose to leave your country, abandon the familiar and comfortable for risk and adventure, this makes you special.
“It is hardly possible to overrate the value...Of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar...Such communication has always been, and is peculiarly in the present age, one of the primary sources of progress”John Stuart Mill, nearly 200 years ago
We need more people like you. That is easy for me to say as I have chosen a road similar to yours. Born in the United States but leaving Washington at the age of 24 for a one year masters program in Bruges, Belgium, over 30 years later I am still here.
What drove me to choose this path? Curiosity, a desire to confront a different world and an immigrant background. My family left Germany in the 1920's after the horrors of the first world war and before the atrocities of the second war.
Thirty years later, I am still here and what have I learned along the way? I have learned to listen. In a foreign land you don’t know the rules and the codes. No one stops to teach you. You need to be alert, listen and integrate what you observe.
Having listened, you are ready to learn. You will begin to understand that, which at first seems strange. The exotic eventually becomes familiar. Your skills , abilities and capacity to adapt grow. Having learnt, you are ready to teach. And teach you must. Learning is inherently selfish. As members of a community we want to share; we want to have impact and make a difference. Share what you have learnt – teach.
Engage. You will have impact and make a difference when you engage. Turn teaching into doing. Grow from being a professor to becoming an agent for change. Find a cause. Find something that excites you or something that revolts you. Commit yourself to addressing it. Fight for the refugees fleeing syria, combat climate change, put an end to female excision, stamp out youth unemployment. Become revolted, engage. Do something!
Engagement will make you passionate. Ensure that you carry passion into what you do. Feel it in your gut. Feel it in your heart. Engage in something which puts a smile on your face and tears in your eyes. Envelope yourself in passion!
Turn that passion into love. Passion will burn out if you don’t nurture it and allow it to take root. Passion is the flower: beautiful but ephemeral. Love endures. Love takes root. Love is eternal. Love what you do and those around you.
And lastly, no matter what happens - hope. Never give up. Have confidence that things will get better. You can make a difference. Have confidence in yourself.
The world can be a nasty place. Today we witness the disintegration of nations in the middle east. Religious strife strikes societies around the world. Terrorism eats at the heart of communities across the globe. Youth unemployment sees skills and human will evaporating on the vine. Natural disasters strike the most fragile countries on the globe and thousands of refugees lose their lives on the seas of the Mediterranean.
But hope...Europe’s disagreements and dissension were addressed on the battlefield just two short generations ago. Strife drove my grandparents from this continent. Now I am back.
But today, dissension and disagreements in Europe are addressed through interminable discussions and compromises crafted around a table. We no longer fight it out on the battlefield. Things do get better.
Hope...There are two ways to look at the world. Glass half full and glass half empty.
So, keep the hope. Listen, learn, teach, engage, have passion, love and hope.
You have taken a road not many have chosen – leaving your homes, confronting new cultures, taking risks. Now engage, have impact and use the fact that you are different to make a difference.
I will close with a quote from the 20th century american poet Robert Frost, 'The Road Not Taken.'
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."