19:45 P.M., June 15, 2018
Thank you very much, Dr. Gialamas, for the kind introduction. Dr. Gialamas, Widener University President Dr. Julie Wollman, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Mr. Sabbagh, distinguished guests, faculty and staff of the American Community School, parents, friends, family, and, most importantly, the members of the graduating class of 2018, I am thrilled to be here tonight to welcome you to this year’s commencement ceremony.
Tonight we celebrate your achievements, as the next generation of innovators, creators, and visionaries, and the embodiment of a bright, talented, and hard-working generation of leaders. And let me confess to you, I’m jealous. For all the global challenges that you will confront, you go out to a world that is more scientifically advanced, more technologically connected, and with a greater sense of possibility than ever before in human history. I sat where you are today in 1981, which feels like the Flintstones compared to the Star Trek world that you are going to grow up in.
Some of you have been together since the first day of primary school and some of you have been here for just a few years. Some of you are far away from your home country or you’ve had to learn a new language; but all of you leave ACS Athens together as graduates. Everyone in this room tonight is proud of you and the work you have done to make it here today.
As we celebrate your success, I’d also like to share my belief that hard work and dedication to self-improvement are the great equalizers. You may start out with different opportunities or capabilities, but education and perseverance will level the playing field. Talent will get you only so far, it’s a little sweat that will take you the extra mile.
I know that your teachers and parents are very proud of you. Proud of your hard work, for overcoming daily tribulations, navigating social life, pushing through all of your activities–not just to make the grade, but to absorb, to learn, and to succeed. And here you are today – one of the great successes of 2018. Say thank you to your parents often. And don’t forget to remember amid the celebrations today those who got you here.
The ACS Mission statement outlines the aim of challenging all students to realize their unique potential: and to thrive as responsible global citizens. As someone who has lived abroad most of the past thirty years and has worked throughout my career to bring people and governments around the world closer together, I urge you to heed this call. As global citizens, you all have a unique gift, and I would argue a duty, to do what you can to help us all navigate our complicated world. Remember, bridges will always last longer than walls.
You can be humble and proud of yourself at the same time; you can be focused on your goals while also lifting up others, and you can also admire the success of others while also letting that motivate you to try even harder.
As you move on to university I will stress that while grades are important, character is imperative: honesty, work ethic, passion, integrity, and responsibility. Long after your SAT scores are forgotten, you will remember and be remembered by the actions that define your character. You will face many new choices you haven’t had to make before. They won’t always be the right ones or the best ones, and it’s always ok to ask for advice. And that’s where building relationships, real relationships, not the kind that are checked off on a screen, will serve you well. This takes initiative. Tell that Professor you liked their lecture, befriend the student who has never been away from home, widen your social circle, as your next chapter will certainly benefit from a breadth of experiences, outside opinions, and perspectives.
This is an exciting time for you. You are finding your paths of discovery. You are defining your place in this world, and what that world will look like. College life isn’t easy, and it’s grown more challenging than when I was in your shoes. The amount you have to juggle each day personally, academically, socially, it’s tiring, I know. But I applaud your success and achievements today, which will carry you forward.
In closing, whatever you do next, I’d advise you to hold on to your special status as students in Athens, Greece. You go out into the world having lived in one of the most beautiful places on this planet. A land, as Zorba the Greek describes it, of islands bathed in light. But you also have lived in a city that gave us that precious gift of freedom. The understanding that as individuals of free will, we have right to govern ourselves. So go forward with the pride of Athenians, with all that you’ve learned from your teachers, your peers, your parents, and draw from these experiences as you move forward to a bright and promising future.
And to the family and friends of the Class of 2018, Συγχαρητήρια! Congraulations! You’ve made it.
It has been an honor for me to be with you here on this special evening. Thank you and best wishes.