ACG Commencement 2013: Ambassador’s Remarks (06/29/2013)

Ambassador's Remarks at Deree (ACG) Commencement 2013 (State Department Photo)
Ambassador’s Remarks at Deree (ACG) Commencement 2013 (State Department Photo)

American College of Greece
Commencement Ceremonies
Saturday, June, 29 at 1945H
Agia Paraskevi Campus

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Greece Daniel Bennett Smith

President Horner,
distinguished guests,
faculty and staff,
family and friends, and students,

I am honored to be here tonight among such an outstanding group of graduates, and it is a great pleasure for me to have the opportunity to join you as you mark this important milestone.

I also want to congratulate George Logothetis on his honorary degree. It is richly deserved.

Your graduation tonight marks the culmination not just of years of dedication and hard work, but also of the constant support you have received from your teachers, families, and friends.

During the three years that I have had the privilege of representing President Obama and the United States of America in the Hellenic Republic, some of my fondest memories have come from the opportunities I have had to interact with you and your counterparts at the other fine colleges and universities that make up the network of American-affiliated institutions in Greece.

You have unfailingly impressed me not just with your talents and seriousness of purpose, but with your confidence in yourselves, and determination to give back for the benefits that you have received.

In his famous inaugural address over fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy challenged a generation of Americans with the famous words “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

I would note that President Kennedy could just as well have borrowed from the motto of the American College of Greece – “Not to be Served, but to Serve.”

President Kennedy’s address took place against the backdrop of a much different world than we face today.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in Europe. Europe in 1960 was a continent divided by an Iron Curtain on the front lines of a Cold War that threatened many times to spill over into a war with unimaginable consequences.   It’s amazing to think how far we have come since.

How freedom has spread throughout most of Europe, how the constant threat of war has receded, how NATO has adapted and ensured the continuation of our trans-Atlantic security alliance, and how the European Union has brought ancient enemies together for mutual benefit.

I know that the current economic crisis has tested Europe and the European Union, and caused many to rethink where Europe is headed and what the future of Europe will be.

But I think it’s important to remember as well how far Europe has come and how much progress has been made.

Still, overcoming the challenges that Europe and Greece face today (as well as indeed the challenges all of us in the world face today) will require the same sacrifice and commitment that President Kennedy sought to inspire in an earlier generation of Americans and that is represented in the motto of this outstanding institution.

It will require leaders and citizens willing to rethink old assumptions, to reshape institutions, and to rebuild the foundations of economic prosperity.

I believe that the skills and analytical abilities you have developed here at Deree have prepared you well to help shape this new future.

There are no shortages of problems in the world, of that I can assure you.

But there are too often shortages of people willing to do something about those challenges.

That said, I remain hopeful.  I am hopeful not only because I see your bright, shining faces out there, and the obvious pride of your families, friends and teachers, but because of the many young people I have met over the courseof my three years here who are eager to make a difference.

This includes young people who are reaching out to those less fortunate, volunteering to work in soup kitchens or homeless shelters.

Young people joining forces to fight global threats such as climate changeor combat human trafficking and modern day slavery.

It includes young people who reject the empty ideologies and promises of the far left and far right, and who seek to build a prosperous and open society which not only tolerates but actually embraces diversity.

It includes those willing to launch new businesses and take new risks, even in the face of difficult economic challenges.  This crisis can be an opportunity.

The reforms that Greece is undertaking can open new doors to those willing to take chances, to those willing to compete in a global market place, to those not afraid to fail and learn from that experience.

I trust that your education here has helped prepare you and inspire you to meet these new challenges and to take advantage of this changing world.

For those of you who are Greek, you have an opportunity to help build a new, more competitive and outward-looking Greek economy that is able to thrive economically and exploit its natural advantages in fields ranging from energy to tourism and agriculture.

I believe that while much work remains to be done, the promise of that new economy is drawing closer, holding out the hope that Greece truly has turned the corner, and will return to steady economic growth that will sustain your careers over the long term.

For those of you who are from other countries, I hope your educational experience here has helped you gain an international perspective and insight into the challenges we face as a world community and of the need for us all to work together if we are to address problems that are truly global in dimension and that no one nation alone can address or solve.

Finally, I fervently hope that your experience at the American College of Greece has inspired in you what will become a life-long passion for learning.

When I was a student, there was a popular book by an author named Alvin Toffler called “Future Shock.”

His thesis, in a nutshell, was that the world and society are changing at ever increasing speeds and that we need to find ways to cope with things like “information overload.”

Toffler wrote his book before there was an internet or personal computers, before email, before cell phones, Google or Facebook.  If he thought there was information overload in 1970, imagine what he would think today.

While many of us may look back longingly on a world without cell phones or email, believe me I do from time to time, we also need to recognize that change is inevitable and that the speed with which things are changing is constantly accelerating.

The challenge for you will be to adapt to this pace of change, to harness new technology and to use it to improve our lives,not complicate them further.

A commitment to lifelong learning will be critical not only to your professional success, but to your personal happiness as well.

I wish you all the best in facing the challenges that lie ahead.

But as you go forth, do not forget the noble values and the principles you have learned, do not forget those less fortunate than yourselves,and do not forget what you owe to your parents, your teachers, your fellow students, your countries, and to the world.

“Not to be Served, but to Serve.”

God bless you and God speed.