Skip to main content

Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Commencement at the School of Foreign Service in Qatar - 2010

School of Foreign Service 
Doha, Qatar
May 8, 2010

Thank you Dean Kamrava, and I am grateful to you and to our faculty for your extraordinary efforts during another successful academic year. I can’t begin to express what an honor it is for me to be here.

I have lived my life in the Academy. I am completing my thirty-fifth year as a member of the Georgetown community. I have attended many commencement exercises. They are among the most inspiring and joyful moments of my life. There are two feelings that most capture the significance of moments like this: hope and gratitude.

Let me explain why.

Every August back in Washington, just as we do here in Doha, we host a convocation. The convocation is intended to welcome our new students and their families into the Georgetown University community. For many years now, at the closing of my remarks, I ask all those who are in attendance – more than 4,000 people – to follow me in an exercise of the imagination. I ask those in the audience to imagine that they represent the world’s entire population. I ask them to imagine that all the world’s 6.5 billion people are right there, present in our arena.

On the back of their programs, we place different colored stickers. The stickers are intended to represent the percentage of the world’s population with a certain set of characteristics. I first ask those with the blue stickers to stand, and they represent the 80% of the world’s population that have never traveled more than a hundred miles from their homes. And then I ask those with a red sticker to stand, and they represent the half the world’s population that lives on less than $2 a day. Then 40% are standing – those without access to clean water or sanitation. Then 15% are standing – the percentage of the world’s population that are unable to read or write.

Then I ask those with a green sticker to stand, and there is only one person standing among all the thousands that are in our arena. That one person represents the 1/100th of one percent of the world’s population who shares with you the opportunity to attend a major American research university like Georgetown.

It’s an extraordinary privilege, and with that privilege comes extraordinary responsibility. This is what we celebrate here today…and why the overwhelming feelings that I have are those of hope and gratitude.

Hope for your promise … for the kinds of contributions that you are now uniquely prepared to make in our world. And gratitude.

Gratitude for the fact that for the past four years we have shared in an extraordinary journey. Gratitude for the fact that we live our lives in communities dedicated to preparing young people – to preparing you – for your place in the world.

You come from 11 different countries. You are Qatari, you are American, you are Egyptian, you are Indian, you are Iranian, you are Lebanese, you are Mauritanian, you are Palestinian, you are Polish, you are Saudi Arabian, you are Syrian/Canadian.

You are Georgetown.

You have come together here over four years. You have come together as a class: 31 students who came to the Liberal Arts and Science Building seeking to build a new academic community. You joined 25 who graduated just a year before…you were joined later by 34 of the class of 2011, and 38 of the class of 2012, and 42 of the class of 2013, all of your committed to building a new academic community.

You embraced a curriculum that has been forged through two centuries on a Hilltop in a city more than 6,000 miles away. A curriculum that has its own origins nearly 400 years ago in the pioneering work in Messina, and Palermo and Rome, the earliest of the Jesuit colleges. And together, with our faculty, women and men like Amira Sonbol, Ibrahim Oweiss, Amy Nestor, Gary Wasserman, and Adhip Chaudhury – now more than 38 members of the faculty. You took the first steps to create a new academic community here based on that curriculum.

But you did not come here alone, there are many who played a part, and we must begin by acknowledging with our most profound appreciation His Highness, the Emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani … who has honored us with his presence here today.

We must recognize Her Highness, Sheikah Mozah bint Nasser al-Misned, whose leadership of the Qatar Foundation provided the invitation to Georgetown to become a part of Education City.

We must also thank the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, His Excellency, Sheik Jassim bin Jabor Al-Thani, for his steadfast support of this initiative here in Doha.

We’re also grateful to those from Georgetown who provide the foundation for your education here, Dean Mehran Kamrava for his outstanding leadership this year…and my dear colleague, former Dean James Reardon-Anderson, who was with you for three of your four years.

The architect of the Georgetown engagement here in Doha, now the President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation—one of the most significant philanthropic organizations in the United States and around our globe—is also here with us today, the Hon. Robert Gallucci.

And I also want to acknowledge the chairman of our Board of Visitors for our SFS, Paul Pelosi. He was here last year, and I am grateful to celebrate again with him this year.

I also want to recognize a woman who just a week ago I had the privilege to introduce as the new dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, Carol Lancaster. Dean Lancaster has been at Georgetown for nearly three decades as a Professor of Politics. She has previously served as the director of the Mortara Center for International Studies, Director of our African Studies program, and Director of our master’s of science in the School of Foreign Service. She’s an alumna of Georgetown, and a distinguished public servant, having served in government for many years, including as deputy administrator for the United States Agency for international development.

The Georgetown University SFS could not be in better hands than in those of Carol Lancaster, and I wish to offer my most sincere congratulations to her on this exciting new responsibility.

I also want to thank your families for their trust and confidence in you and in us, and in Georgetown. These are four of the most precious years of your life, and your families had the confidence to entrust in us your undergraduate education.

And finally I want to thank all of you. You have fully embraced the opportunities and experiences that were provided for you here. You engaged in important research projects focused on such topics as labor migration in the Gulf…labor equations…the study of foreign migrants from India in Qatar. You have traveled to Jordan, Rwanda, and Cyprus to understand the causes of and effects of conflict and war. You have built schools in Tanzania and houses in Jordan and China, and you even joined classmates from Washington to work in Appalachia during spring break.

Each year we welcome into our University community a new group of students with the hope that they will embrace the opportunities and seek to forge their own character, their own intellects, their own identity, in a way that will ensure they can find their place in the world. All of you have done that. It is an honor for me to be here and to be able to celebrate with you this day.

There is something truly distinctive in a Georgetown education. In the course of your undergraduate years, we hope that you are able to shape your intellect and forge your character with the result that you are prepared to accept responsibility for leadership, whether in your hometowns or in your communities, in your mosques, in your churches.

Two Dimensions:
The hope that I feel today is rooted in the convergence of your promise and the distinctive character of Georgetown.

There are two dimensions of our tradition that I hope you experienced, and that I hope you will carry with you. The first is captured in words offered by Pedro Arrupe, the leader of the Jesuits from 1966 to 1983, a man whose spirit animates so much of modern Georgetown. He asked each of us to live our lives as “women and men for others.” He asked us to acknowledge the nature of our responsibilities to one another and to the common good.

We live in an extraordinary time. Let me share one dimension of our time. In our lifetimes we have lived through a revolution in the way we think about the nature of our responsibilities to one another. It was only in 1990 that the first Human Development Report was issued by the United Nations. This report was part of an effort to provide a new logic for how we think about our responsibilities. It was grounded in the philosophical work of one of the greatest minds of modern time, the Nobel economist, Amartya Sen. He provided the intellectual framework for a new movement which seeks to move from measuring the growth and development of a nation and its people from measures of GDP to more sensitive sets of indicators that look to the human flourishing of each person…the capacity, the capability of each person to achieve their full humanity. Over these past two decades – in your lifetimes – this logic has taken hold. And we now live in a world where we acknowledge our responsibilities for the integral human development of each one of us, and of all of us.

Many of you live in a region that will face some extraordinary challenges in the coming decade. About 65 million people in the Middle East are illiterate. 40% live below the poverty line. Ten million children between the ages of six and fifteen are currently out of school, and if current trends persist, this number will increase by 40% in the next five years. Only 6% of the population uses the internet. There is more than 15% unemployment.

And no generation of young people has been as large as today’s, with an estimated 51 million new jobs required by 2020.

These are questions of human development, and these are challenges crying out for leadership. These are challenges that ask each one of you to accept a sense of responsibility.

There is a second goal we have in our tradition, and that is that you are able to live your lives in alignment with your most deeply held beliefs, with your deepest values. That you are able to achieve a profound sense of interior freedom. Such freedom enables you to know where you are blocked from living your deepest values. We hope that through our curriculum, through courses like “The Problem of God;” by reading the best that has been thought and written; in your conversations with one another; in your work with our faculty and in your extracurricular activities, you have come to know yourself, your deepest convictions, and what it is you want to stand for in your life. It’s a sense of self-possession, a sense of serenity, an inner peace, a consolation in knowing that you are working to become your very best self…and living your most deeply held values.

The deeper your interior freedom, the deeper you are able to establish your sense of self. The work of interior freedom is animated by your imagination, by the capacity to range broadly, widely, deeply across the range of possibilities. We seek to help you achieve the deepest understanding of reality possible, with the recognition that that understanding begins within oneself.

There are many resistances. In an age of social networking we need to acknowledge the incredible power to connect us to one another. This ability to connect brings all of us closer together and creates incredible new learning opportunities like those of you who participated in courses in the telepresence classroom that linked you simultaneously with students and faculty in Washington. But we must also acknowledge the limitations of these technologies.

At a recent talk in Mexico City, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, the leader of the Jesuits, reminded us of these limitations when he spoke of the “globalization of superficiality.” This greater facility in connecting with others, near and far, does not necessarily equate to depth or integrity. The availability of communication networks and the greater sophistication of individuals using these new networks can generate a new human loneliness; they can allow people to slip into superficial contacts and translate these as wisdom or understanding; and they can encourage an intellectual and cultural arrogance.

It is through the deep work of our imagination that we are able to achieve a degree of interior freedom that will ensure that we are living our lives in alignment with our deepest values.

It’s an honor for me to be with you today. It is inspiring; it is a joy. And I am filled with hope. Hopeful in the fact that you are now poised to take your first steps out into the world, having prepared yourself in the most rigorous way possible with our faculty and with your fellow students with whom we celebrate today. Hopeful most of all for your promise

You move forward from here with the recognition that with the learning that comes from your lives together over these four years, we are here for others. This is a recognition of the responsibility we share for the collective development of the whole human family, and of each and every person.

You move forward from here with the understanding that the work of interior freedom continues, every day of our lives. You must continue to cultivate an imagination capable of ranging widely over the possibilities, deepening your capacity to align your decisions and your actions with your most deeply held beliefs…your most deeply held values.

This is a very special day. This is your day. And it is an honor for all of us to be able to participate in this commencement. Commencement is a beginning, a stepping forward into a world that desperately needs your skills, your dreams, your passions. We are grateful for all that you have already accomplished. And we are hopeful for the work you will do …and the lives you will touch, for the promise each of you brings into our world.

Congratulations and thank you.

Georgetown University37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057(202) 687.0100

Connect with us via: