On the Occasion of Deerfield Academy Commencement
Deerfield, Massachusetts, US
28 May 2006
It is a tremendous pleasure to be back at Deerfield among all of you. And students, I'm honoured to help celebrate your Commencement. In life, this is one of the rare moments - not so much a turning point, but a pausing point when you can stop, look back at real success, and think about the path ahead.
Allow me, first, to congratulate some who have really been looking forward to this day, from that first Deerfield visit, through all the lessons learned, term time and vacation time, papers and reports and college applications, the worries and the joys, the late-night emails, the love and support and all those phone calls. Deerfield parents, please accept our respect and thanks.Men and Women of the Class of 2006,
This is your day. And I am here to welcome you to a remarkable community; the community of Deerfield alumni. You will find us around the world. And each and every one of us knows what it means to look up to the hills and be part of this experience and school.
You learn when you come here, that a great institution is not just a place. It is the people who give this school its continuity and character; its unique spirit of community and excellence. For you, as for all of us, that experience does not end today. It simply begins a new phase. The Deerfield ethos is for a lifetime. And as you carry that spirit forward, you will shape the future more than you know.
Your class comes of age in a world of change - in global economics and politics, in human knowledge and capability. That's a reality my own class is very familiar with. In 1980, when we graduated, the Cold War was in the daily headlines; now, it's a chapter in the history books. Technologies that were cutting edge just a short time ago, are, today, in museums. You know, the first IBM PC wasn't even on the market until 1981. It held 256 kilobytes of memory. Kilobytes. All the technologies we take for granted today - cell phones, laptops, global communications - were barely on the horizon. And I can guarantee you, in a few years, you and I will be working with whole new capabilities and facing new challenges.
How do we prepare for that kind of future? In Jordan, in America, in every other country, it starts with a command of the basics - a foundation of knowledge and skills. There's an old saying in my part of the world that knowledge is the best kind of wealth: it's easy to carry; nobody can take it away from you; and it has value wherever you go. And let me add, contrary to what it felt like, when you were studying for exams your brain cannot over fill. The more we know, the better we can understand what's coming in business and technology; in the environment; in global affairs and world civilisations. The message is, keep learning.
But in a dynamic, diverse world, success requires more. To thrive throughout your life, you must be prepared to think your way through change and growth and challenge. The best schools foster critical thinking and a restless curiosity. And strong ethics - respect for other people and other viewpoints; honesty; responsibility; compassion. At Deerfield, we've all heard it said: “keep it on a high level” - and “finish up strong.” That sense of character, that heart, is what you bring to the future. And it has never been more important.
That's because, for all that has changed, some things haven't changed enough. Vast numbers of people across our globe still suffer poverty, hardship, and relentless conflict. In my own region, too many lives, for too many years, have been shattered by violence and hopelessness. I can't stand here today without thinking about students in Iraq, Palestine, and Israel whose futures have been derailed by years of conflict.
No person, no nation, can ignore the hopes of others around the world. We are tied by an inseparable kinship and shared dreams. Your fellow students everywhere want what you want - justice and safety and opportunity to build lives of prosperity and peace. And as long as these hopes are unanswered, our whole world pays a terrible price.
But, friends, we have choices. We can turn away from “us and them” thinking and all the barriers and stagnation this will bring. We can work together to build the peace people need to live in security and confidence. We can expand opportunity and win-win development. And we can open a new dialogue between faiths and cultures, in genuine acceptance and respect.
The job for tomorrow's leaders is to find the opportunities that lie within the challenges. And each and every one of you will play a vital role. More than ever, people need to understand each other - our common bonds and interests, as well as our different histories and, sometimes, views. Deerfield Academy has made a huge contribution, especially in reaching out to the Arab world. And now there will be a new opportunity to work together, as King's Academy opens its campus in Jordan. We wanted to bring the Deerfield model to the Middle East - a co-ed boarding school where faculty and students are close, academic studies encourage great work, and life is enriched with competitive sports, lively arts, and real community service.
We are deeply grateful for the support and encouragement of so many people in the Deerfield family, especially the great Class of 1980. And we look forward to a continuing special relationship between the schools. Indeed, when King's first term starts, we have just the right headmaster to welcome the students - a superb educator and great leader, Eric Widmer.
I guess Eric isn't the retiring type - and let me say, we are heartily thankful. Sir, we look forward to welcoming you and Meera to Jordan. And I hope that every one of you will pay us a visit as well.
And let me say a word to faculty and staff. Deerfield graduates are the living legacies of people who inspired us, and believed in us, and were there for us. I was in one of the first Deerfield classes taught by a great young teacher named Tedwin Littman. He went on to encourage and motivate decades of students. His loss this year cannot take this legacy away. Our prayers are with his family and friends.
Ask any Deerfield grad, and you will hear about the teachers who made a difference in our lives. And by the way, not every great teacher was in the classroom. We have all received a few life-lessons from people like Norm and Dottie in the Stock Room. To every one of you, thank you for all you give.
Here in Deerfield, and at King's Academy too, the spirit of community and achievement will continue. But in just as real a way, the spirit continues in every graduate who reaches out to make a connection and make a difference in our world.
In a sense, that's the idea behind the Green Key tradition - a hand of friendship, student to student, and the chance to mentor others in your turn. Now you graduates will be Green Keys in a larger world. Each, in your own way, will choose what doors you open. And each of you will choose whether you hold those doors open for others as well as yourselves. Carry the Deerfield spirit forward. Choose great things. And believe in your power to make a difference. The century is yours.
Congratulations and may God bless you all.