A. Joseph's Commencement Address
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.