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2005 Commencement Address

Commencement 2005Kostas Karamanlis - Prime Minister of Greece and Fletcher School graduate - delivered the keynote address to the thousands of graduates, families and friends on hand for Tufts' 2005 commencement ceremonies.


May 22, 2005.

President Bacow, distinguished honorees, invited guests and, most important of all on this day, graduates of the Class of 2005.

I thank you all for taking the time to listen to me and I promise to follow the advice a classics professor once gave a commencement speaker: "Pretend you're Socrates on trial in Athens," he said. "Be clever but be brief or everyone's going to be thinking, 'What that know-it-all needs is a cup of hemlock.'" So I intend to be brief but as I have been honored here today I want to pay due honor to all you graduates.

We Greeks have a word for all of you: AXIOI! The word means you are worthy, worthy of the degrees you will receive today, worth of the gifted Tufts teachers who educated you, worthy of the sacrifices your parents have made to send you here and the pride and love they feel for you now, and worthy to face the challenge now before you to go out and change the world for the better. I congratulate you. I salute you. I honor you.

I know that the happiness you feel upon graduating is mixed with anxiety about the future. Don't let that worry you at all. I know from experience that, to paraphrase a song about New York, if you can make it at Tufts, you can make it anywhere. The lessons you have learned here will stand you well in the future, as they did me. The multinational environment fostered at Tufts, an environment where differences are understood and respected, broadened my perspective and gave me a wider view of the world, as I know it did for all of you. The friendships and discussions I enjoyed here with young people of different races, religions, countries and economic backgrounds gave me a firsthand global perception of the political, economic and social problems that still plague the world.

I was fortunate as a Greek because the educational values that guided Tufts were familiar to me since they had their origins in my native Greece. Plato defined education as "the particular learning that leads you through life to hate what should be hated and love what should be loved." We can all figure out what should be hated - cruelty, exploitation, corruption, abuse of power, abuse of trust, abuse of the environment, poverty and misery. When young, as you are now, we have a low threshold of indignation against these injustices. Some people as they grow older and find it hard to combat such evils, grow weary and become less willing to continue the struggle. But I hope and trust that your years at Tufts have fortified you with the stamina not to lose heart but to continue fighting all those good fights that make progress possible.

Some fall into complacency more easily, others look more to the past. But you Americans are a new nation, eyes fixed to the future. "Americans," Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, "all have a lively faith in the perfectibility of man. They judge that the diffusion of knowledge must necessarily be advantageous and the consequences of ignorance fatal; they all consider society as a body in a state of improvement... and what appears to them today to be good may be superseded by something better tomorrow."

That faith in the future forged America and has helped shape the modern world. Last year, Athens was the host city of the Olympic Games, which were founded in Greece in 776 BC and revived in Athens in 1896. Everyone predicted that we would not be ready and the Games were going to be a disaster, but we proved all the armchair Cassandras wrong by producing the most inspiring, the most creative and the safest Games in history.

My government intends to use the same determination and our unique position in Southeastern European members of both NATO and the European Union to help turn the whole region into an area of stability, cooperation, prosperity and peace. To accomplish that task, we will need the strong support of both the European Union and the United States. We look forward to working closely with both to help bring peace to an area long known as history's cauldron, a maelstrom of ethnic and religious strife for over a century.

The late President Konstantinos Karamanlis, after whom the chair in Hellenic and Southeastern European Studies at Fletcher is named, was a visionary who led the reconstruction of Greece after World War II and guided our country to full membership in the European Union. It is the task of our generation to bring our country to the forefront of European development, to fully integrate our broader neighborhood to the European institutions and give all young people the opportunity to excel themselves. And, furthermore, turn our country into a center of education and culture to the benefit not only of Greece, but all the peoples of the region. These are difficult challenges, and you will face tasks just as daunting in the fields you have chosen as careers. How can you do it with confidence and resolve? Your experience here at Tufts should help you, as it did me, because the other part of Plato's definition of education - "learning to love what should be loved" - also characterizes this university.

What you were taught here was to take on whatever task you were assigned and pour all your intelligence, imagination and energy into it to produce the best work that was in you. You were taught a passion for excellence and if you sustain that passion in your working life, you will not fail. If you just do enough to get by, you'll be okay, but if you put a little extra effort into what you have to do you'll stand out and you will be noticed.

So a love of excellence is what Plato had in mind. But not only that. For a fulfilling life it takes other kinds of love. The love of your parents sitting here today whom you will not see as much in the years ahead as you focus on your careers and your own families, but whose love and devotion will continue to sustain you. The love of the close friends you made in childhood and here at Tufts, whose trust and empathy can help you through the many rough spots you are certain to encounter. The love of the partner you choose to share both the sweet and bitter moments that are part of every life. The love of the children you will produce and watch with joy and anguish as they grow. Only if you nourish your relationships as conscientiously as you pursue your careers will you find true fulfillment in life. And here you Americans may have something to learn from us Europeans.

One thing is certain about all of you who are graduating today: You are now setting sail on a new journey, one that may sometimes be lonely and fearful but always exhilarating because your hand is now on the tiller and you are masters of your fate at last. As Cavafy suggested in his poem Ithaca you will encounter hardships and storms ahead but do not fear them. On the whole your journey will be full of adventure, full of knowledge.

So I wish you all fair winds and strong sails. The world awaits you! Thank you and Godspeed.


Homepage image by Winslow Martin. Photo of Prime Minister Karamanlis by Winslow Martin. Photos of graduates by Melody Ko.

This story originally ran on May 23, 2005