Chatham University

Commencement Address

Dr. José Zaglul
President, EARTH University
Keynote address delivered at Chatham University
May 23, 2010

First and foremost, I wish to extend my congratulations to you, the graduating class, and your family and friends here with us today. On a day like this, your hearts must be filled with happiness and satisfaction for this great achievement. I know that your loved ones must feel joy and hope for you at the culmination of your studies here. I am sure the President of this extraordinary institution, as well as the faculty and all those at Chatham who helped you reach this moment, feel proud and hopeful as they send you off into the world.

It is a great privilege to be invested with this honorary degree from this prestigious university. I wish to thank you for this recognition, and it is with a profound sense of humility and gratitude that I accept it.

As someone who stands before you as a guest from another country, who comes from a different culture, from an university immersed in the middle of the rain forest and from a different economic and social reality, I want to share my concerns and my hopes for you and the world.

In the twenty or thirty years that you have been alive the world has become a small place.

In your lifetime, we have seen the advent of the internet, cell phones, social media and other technologies that have enabled people on different continents to interact with one another on a daily basis with ease. These technologies have connected humankind as never before. Consider, for instance the recent tragedy in Haiti. Just in the United States, more than $30 million dollars were donated to relief efforts in Haiti via cell phones. People in Pennsylvania, in Costa Rica, people thousands of miles from Haiti with no immediate connections to the country were able to follow the developments and get involved in recovery efforts through a simple text message.

This outpouring of support for Haiti shows us that people are intrinsically kind, that they are giving, and when provided the opportunity to help one another, they will.

Sometimes we underestimate our capacity to give, to share, to care for one another. It therefore gives me great hope to see that the technology of our age is revealing to the world the generosity that we as humans are capable of.

The world is getting even smaller.

In your lifetime, we have seen increased internationalization, foreign exchanges and international travel and have in many ways become a multicultural species. The children being born today, more often than not, are a melting pot of different races and nationalities. My grandchildren, for instance, will be Lebanese, Nicaraguan and Costa Rican. This multiculturalism not only connects us to one another, but I believe, will eventually lead to greater global understanding and peace around the world. The more connected we are genetically and culturally, the harder it will be to ignore or tolerate social inequity or to wage war against other countries.

As we reflect on this interconnectedness, which has become so evident in your lifetime, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of promoting peace in the world. It has been shown that famine and hunger are not just a result of poverty, but a cause of poverty. Despite an ever–growing population, there is enough water and food to feed every human being alive today. And yet people are dying of hunger all over the world. We also know that poverty, lack of dignity and social injustice are causes of political turmoil, violence and war. If we are to have peace, we must care for one another, we must be generous and we must use the technological resources of our age to meet the basic needs and rights of every person on this planet.

For the world is getting very small.

In your lifetime, we have seen an increased rate of warming on the planet. We are facing not just climate change, but a deeper environmental crisis unintentionally caused by ourselves. We are also seeing the largest rate of species extinctions since the disappearance of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. This environmental situation affects us all; regardless of wealth, education, nationality or race.

We are all connected by our dependence on the Earth to provide us with the conditions to support life. Therefore, we are all responsible for the care of our planet. It has become very clear in your lifetime that our current development model is not sustainable. We must look at how to move forward without destroying each other or the planet. We need a new world order.

As graduates of a United States institution, do not underestimate your potential to influence change and promote peace and sustainability. The United States has tremendous impact in international policy, and as the future professionals of this country, so do you. Your education and your voice as North Americans can be the instruments of change – do not doubt their strength.

My message to you is therefore twofold: we live in a small world–please care for each other and care for the planet. I urge you to work on healing the wounds of our society, to promote peace and respect and to help create a world of harmony and prosperity for all. Only a generation that thinks this way will be able to create the kind of future we all hope to leave for our children and grandchildren.

Let me tell you a short story here. A man in the country I come from had the crazy idea of abolishing the army in Costa Rica 61 years ago, and instead invested resources in education and universal health care. Ever since, Costa Ricans have lived in peace and enjoyed the benefits of democracy and a healthier life. This is the power of an individual who believed in an idea and made it happen. It was not easy; however, this action changed our future for the better, and all Costa Ricans feel proud of it. Today, you are joining an elite group.

In the developing world, which is home to 80 percent of the world’s population, less than 20 percent of individuals have an opportunity at a higher education, let alone a graduate degree.

At my institution, EARTH University, whose mission is to prepare ethical leaders who will contribute to sustainable development and to construct a prosperous and just society, many of our students are the first in their village to attend college. We purposely seek out these students in order to provide them a first–class education. We believe education is the key for progress and transformation. From the day they arrive to the day the graduate, we foster in them a commitment to return to their communities to share what they have learned and promote environmental, social and economic well–being. The emphasis of our educational approach is not only on scientific or technical knowledge, but also on helping them recognize that our individual well–being can only be sustained if we pursue the common good for all of Earth’s inhabitants. This is something Chatham University and EARTH University share. EARTH University, not unlike Chatham, was created to provide educational opportunities to those who ordinarily would never have been able to go to college – this with the end goal of creating leaders who would serve their communities and address the problems facing their countries.

Education is the best tool we have for establishing peace, democracy and freedom, and I hope that you will never forget how fortunate you are to have had this opportunity to receive a world–class university education. This great privilege you have received is also a great responsibility. Use your education to serve humankind. Relentlessly pursue social justice and environmental well–being in everything you do. For you are the leaders who can create the future we dream of. A future of peace, of global understanding; a future where abject poverty and hunger no longer exist, a future of ecological balance and sustainability.

Think about what you can do today to bring about the changes of tomorrow. As you go into your professional lives, I urge you to make decisions based on what is good for every person on this planet. Remember that we are facing a common threat, and we must change our mindset in order to ensure our survival on this planet. It is not our differences that divide us; it is our similarities which unite us. We must work together across race and class and gender, across geological boundaries and political borders to affect the change that is needed to save our planet.

It is my sincere hope that you take these basic values and make positive contributions as citizens of the world. For today, we are citizens, not just of our nations, but of the world. I have a profound faith in the young generations of today, for I trust that if provided with the opportunity, you have the strength, innovation and persistence to change our planet’s course. Like you, I received a degree from Chatham University today. Unfortunately, I do not have your youth, but I do have your energy, your heart and your commitment and I want to join you in changing the world and pursuing peace and sustainability for all. I wish you all much success in this great task before you. Thank you.