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James A. Joseph's Commencement Address

The 2003 commencement remarks of James A. Joseph:

This is an awesome and almost apocalyptic time to be graduating from college. I want, thus, to say how honored I am to be associated with the Mount Holyoke class of 2003, not just today but in perpetuity. I also accept your invitation to point briefly to the challenge that most concerns me as I think of the world you have inherited. The historian Tacitus defined patriotism as praiseworthy competition with our ancestors. I recall that description of civic virtue today because it reminds us that each generation has an opportunity, indeed and obligation, to contribute something as significant, as meaningful and even as extraordinary as preceding generations. So what does this global moment require of your generation?

Coming here almost directly from South Africa, I have had a chance to see our nation from the perspective provided by geographical distance and cultural difference, I am concerned, therefore, about the decisions your generation must make about the role and relevance of the nation state in an interdependent world that is integrating and fragmenting at the same time.

It has been my great privilege to work with a leader whose extraordinary standing and stature at home and abroad came from power of his ideals, the strength of his spirit and the elegance of his humanity. Even in retirement, Nelson Mandela stands out as the prototype of what is increasingly called "soft power", influence that comes from attraction rather than coercion. To be sure, he understands that the use of force can inflict and even prevent pain, but he also understands that it can rarely ensure long-term compliance or enduring goodwill.

The events of the last decade have essentially laid a global empire at the feet of the United States, but I hope that the kind of world you will want and hopefully to build, is that described by the black mystic, poet and theologian Howard Thurman who was fond of saying: "I want to be me without making it difficult for you to be you." I hope that those of you who are Americans will expand your horizons and say "I want to be an American without making it difficult for Asians to be Asians, Africans to be Africans, and Arabs to be Arabs." I hope that those of you who are Christians will expand your religious imagination and say "I want to be a Christian without making it difficult for Muslims to be Muslims, Jews to e Jews, Buddhists to be Buddhists or Hindus to be Hindus."

If your years in college have helped to shape that sort of discernment, then your faculty should feel rewarded, your parents can relax and you can help shape a new worldview and, in the true spirit of Mount Holyoke, build a new world.

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