DU Class of 2016 Encouraged to Tackle the Nation's Challenges
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright delivers the commencement speech to more than 1,000 undergraduates
In a wide-ranging address covering everything from her years in Denver to her concerns about growing isolationism in the United States, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called on the members of DU’s Class of 2016 to put their education to work in service of the country’s values and well-being.
“I do insist that each of you use the knowledge gained here at DU to be more than a consumer of liberty, but to also be a defender and an enricher of it, employing your talents to heal, help and teach,” she said, speaking at the June 4 undergraduate Commencement ceremony in Magness Arena.
“I look ahead of me at the class of 2016, and I must tell you, I see only doers." Madeleine Albright, Former Secretary of State
Albright identified a number of challenges facing the new graduates and the country as a whole.
“At home, America’s greatest challenge will be to maintain a sense of community and common purpose,” she said, reminding the audience that the country’s diversity has always been one of its strengths. “[But] there’s also a danger, because when pride in ‘us’ descends into hatred of ‘them,’ the American tapestry unravels and the social fabric is torn.” That, in turn, results in the marginalization of minorities and demonization of immigrants, she said.
Albright also shared her concerns about what she sees as the country’s growing tendency toward isolationism. “We cannot will away or wall away the world,” she explained. “To have a full and rewarding future, you have to look outwards, not inwards.
“Your challenge as a generation will be to craft a new consensus on what America’s role in the world should be, one that recognizes that while the U.S. may not be the world’s sole policeman, it must continue to be the world’s best partner.”
As the daughter of Josef Korbel, the founder of what is now known as DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, Albright is no stranger to Denver or the University. “As many of you know,” DU Chancellor Rebecca Chopp told the audience in her introductory remarks, “she grew up on this campus.”
Albright celebrated her ties to the city and institution, noting that although she was born in what was then Czechoslovakia and has spent much of her life in Washington, D.C., she remains especially fond of the Mile High City. “Growing up, I was taught that there were two great cities in the world: Prague and Denver,” she said. “When people asked me where I’m from in America, I say Denver.”
“We moved here when I was 12,” she recalled, noting that the Korbel family’s arrival in Denver came thanks to Ben Cherrington, an author of the United Nations Charter and DU’s chancellor from 1943-46. Cherrington hired Korbel to teach at the University’s Social Science Foundation, which, Albright noted, was “the first international relations department in the country.”
Because of the institution’s international focus, Albright said, “this university has a key role to play in explaining to the American people why our engagement abroad matters.”
Albright also reminded the 1,039 new graduates in the audience that they must use their educations to full benefit.
“From this day forward,” Albright said, “you will have to rely not on grades or guidance from professors to tell you how you are doing or where you stand. You will have to rely instead on an inner compass. Whether that compass is true will tell you whether you are a drifter who is blown about by every breeze or a doer determined to chart your own course and unafraid when necessary to set sail against the strongest wind.
“I look ahead of me at the class of 2016,” Albright said, “and I must tell you, I see only doers.”
Before delivering her address, Albright was awarded an honorary doctor of public service degree.