John Cabot University Commencement Address

Good evening President Pavoncello, Rabbi Di Segni, Dr. Hagan, members of the 2011 graduating class, families, friends and faculty.

Thank you for inviting me here this evening; it is my honor and pleasure to be here with all of you.

This is truly an international school located in what was the heart of the Roman Empire – Rome the first multicultural homeland in global history.

The Roman Empire spread across Europe, the Near East and North Africa. The society of ancient Rome was enriched by the resulting mix of exotic new languages and rich cultures. Ancient Rome reflected the vibrancy that today, we as a global community, strive for in each of our own communities and societies.

Indeed, your student body and this graduating class, spans no less than 5 continents – only Antarctica is not represented here today! You mirror the ancient world’s and Rome’s diversity.

While I note with pride my fellow American students I also must acknowledge that among you are the vibrant youth of our neighbors in Canada, and friends from throughout Europe, Peru, Malaysia, India and the Middle East. I must particularly salute the students from Libya and hope for a return to peace and stability in your country. Last but not least, we have a large contingent from Italy, the warm heart of the Mediterranean that has been your home and is now mine.

Every graduate in this room won what the popular modern author Malcolm Gladwell calls the family lottery. Because of your families you’ve been given this gift. The gift…You have been privileged to study at John Cabot University – a small, American liberal-arts university that represents some of the best qualities of the U.S. education system – a school with small classes, and close interaction with fellow students and professors – a school with ideals that encourages you to aim high and reach far. I believe each of you owe your families your thanks and gratitude.

Each graduate today has experienced a unique opportunity to spend the past 4 years living in a truly international and multicultural community. Together you each shared your heritage, ideas, goals and ambitions with friends, classmates and professors.

Hopefully in this sharing you have learned that our differences…your differences in the way we approach life are far outweighed by our similarities in what we each want from this life.

As well, hopefully, from this rich and diverse learning experience you now recognize that knitted together these differences become strengths. You realize these strengths when you bring your differences together in a collaborative effort to attain even higher global goals of partnership and cooperation. You realize these strengths in the interest of all, in a world that is increasingly multicultural and interconnected, a world where you…the youth of today…have enormous power thanks to your ability to take advantage of the vast array of social media tools that give voice to your hopes and aspirations. Those shared hopes and aspirations that we each want and need… the freedom to dream and the opportunity to make those dreams a reality.

In my day, to ensure an opportunity to reach those dreams we marched to be heard –today you Tweet.

Yes I know this is your day to celebrate what you’ve done and where you’re going…. but before the party begins…. Today I want to talk just for a few minutes about giving something back.

In America we are taught that we have an obligation to give of our time, skills and energy to the greater good. No one said it better and more clearly than President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in his inaugural address: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

Service to community is required of us in school and is encouraged by our families – we even now honor the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King with a day of Service:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'”

Each year, Americans across the country answer that question by coming together on the King Holiday to serve their neighbors and communities.

The MLK Day of Service is a part of United We Serve, the President’s national call to service initiative. It calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national and global problems.

In my family we didn’t need a day of service. Service was, and is a given. A commitment to service was at the heart of our being. My mother’s 30-year career in social service and my father’s lifetime of volunteer community development work instilled in me a passion for service and a desire to help change our world.

My father was a community organizer before the term became popular. My dad was the man every politician could count upon to work the polls and knock the doors. Our neighborhood church could always count on my dad to fry the fish or make the barbeque. The community leaders could always depend upon the availability of our family’s dining room table for the meeting. Unfortunately as a child the unspoken understanding was that my dad was not just volunteering himself, but my mother as well as my sisters and me.

We were the young people who passed out flyers on Election Day. Cleared the tables at the church suppers and even cleaned the stairs at our parish convent.

Okay I will admit it. I was not the best student in either college or law school. I know there are many of you sitting out there who can relate to my academic experience. I graduated neither magna nor summa cum laude. I graduated what my mother laughingly called thank you laude! An old joke but yet an honest assessment.

The good thing was not the grades but the experiences, the tools, the relationships and drive my education gave to me.

My ability to serve was not limited by my grades or class rank. In fact after my first job no one ever asked me about GPA or my class rank. The reputation I built for accepting challenges and achieving results became the keys to my success.

I served in government as a White House Liaison with the State Department.

And now I am proud and honored to represent the United States abroad.

In 2009 President Barack Obama named me the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations Agencies here in Rome.

Rome, as you surely know by now, is home to the headquarters of the three main UN Organizations involved in food and agriculture: the FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization; the WFP – World Food Program; and IFAD – the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

These three organizations are at the heart of international efforts to promote sustainable agricultural development and to alleviate hunger around the world.

As Ambassador my responsibility is to represent the United States government as we work with these organizations to help advance their efforts and hard work worldwide. Our Mission here in Rome includes representatives from the Department of State, the Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Together we support the UN agencies as they work to provide emergency food aid, promote sustainable agriculture, uphold food safety standards, encourage responsible management of fisheries and forests and finance rural development.

Making sure that there is enough food for everyone is at the core of what we do.

In 2009 U.S. President Barack Obama met here in Italy, at L’Aquila, with the leaders of the eight countries with the largest economic power – the G8 countries – and together they launched their battle to end hunger, by pledging $22 billion to investment in agricultural development and improved global food security.

While the United States supports emergency food aid generously – in fact it is the world’s largest provider of food assistance to those in need – its ultimate goal is to move communities and countries away from assistance to self-sustained economic growth.

To that end the United States committed its share of the L’Aquila pledge – $ 3.5 billion – to creating a global hunger and food security initiative called Feed the Future.

We are also focusing on nutrition with our contribution to a global partnership called 1,000 Days which works to improve nutrition for mothers and young children in the 1,000 day period from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s second birthday, when good nutrition is critical for physical growth and mental development.

I relish the opportunity President Obama has given me to serve my country and contribute to the global effort to provide food security for the nearly one billion hungry people around the world.

I want to see us reach the Millennium Development Goal of cutting the number of people who suffer from hunger and poverty in half by 2015.

And what about you? I understand you also have contributed to the fight against hunger, by going out and collecting hundreds of signatures in support of the FAO’s “1 Billion Hungry Petition.”

Well, that’s a great start. Even small efforts count – the important thing is the desire, the will, the belief that you can make a difference.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one,” Mother Teresa said.

But YOU, with the opportunities you have had, can do so much more to make a difference.

Who, better than you, is prepared to think and work in a global environment?

Who, better than you, is prepared to grasp and use the quickly evolving means of global communication to bring positive change?

The social media that you use so ably to keep in touch, and share experiences, are instruments that have changed the course of recent history. Media such as Facebook, Twitter and You Tube can be credited for keeping hope alive in Iran and Syria, for organizing and sustaining the rebellions in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya. An amazing achievement that without the communication tools, completely inconceivable even 5 years ago.

You leave John Cabot University, with a world class diploma, and I believe even more important you depart this university with a unique set of tools for making a difference during a time of global change. While receiving an excellent education, you have learned how to succeed in a multicultural environment. Many of you participated in internships at the UN organizations in Rome, and you have worked with the Universities Fighting World Hunger initiative.

Whether you go back to your home country or remain ‘citizens of the world’, you have an obligation to build on your experience at John Cabot and go out into the world to make a difference. I recently celebrated yet another birthday. Each birthday brings me closer to the reality that more of my career is behind me than ahead of me. However every experience like the one I am sharing here with you tonight makes that realization really quite alright. Because each time I meet even one young person beginning his or her career, with the educational and experiential tools driven by a passion and a commitment to continue making positive change in our world I know the future is in good hands.

As noted by one of the great philosopher’s of our youth…Dr. Seuss in the Lorax… “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”

So the question is…. are you the one?

Graduates …This is your day. Celebrate it. This is your time. Ask yourself the question what will you do with this time? How will the world grade your leadership and your service? The future of our world belongs to each of you. What will you do to make the future a better one for those not in this room, who will never see a place like this one?

So party, celebrate, shed the tears… as you remember the good, the great and even when you remember the not so great times.

And then… use your gifts, realize your dreams and fully live this life…

Serve…. It’s not how big or small your service or your contribution…but when you look back on this life know that you performed your part…creating a better world.

Yes you define what “your part means”. But when defining your part recognize…that every part no matter how big or small… counts.

One final quote…as Winston Churchill said: We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Using your gifts, realizing your dreams, serving…Now, that’s a life well lived.

So Go for it.

Thank you.