2019 Commencement

Good evening, everyone. And welcome. This is a great occasion in the life of our university, in the life of each graduate, and in the lives of the family and friends here tonight. I know I speak for the entire Drexel community when I say ‘congratulations’ to the graduates — for the intellectual gifts, hard work, and perseverance that got you here tonight. And this impressive ceremony celebrates your achievements.

Just last month, there was another impressive ceremony right here in Philadelphia. It couldn't match this one in scope, but 61 immigrants from 31 countries around the world came together at the towering James A. Byrne Federal Courthouse in Center City, where they crowded into a ceremonial courtroom on the first floor to be sworn in as new citizens of the United States.

Each of those naturalized citizens had earned the right to be there, just as you earned the right to be here this evening. And each of them had proud friends and family with them, as you do tonight. Your graduation, like that naturalization ceremony, is also a celebration of citizenship.

The majority of the class of 2019 are U.S. citizens, although I'm happy to say this class also includes graduates from 47 other countries. But your experience at Drexel has prepared each and every one of you for a second, critically important form of citizenship.

You are citizens of the world: active, caring, informed and involved citizens of the world. I can say that with confidence, because of the strong tradition of civic engagement that's a vital part of who we are at Drexel — a tradition most of you have experienced firsthand. A nd an appetite for civic engagement is the basic ingredient for productive world citizenship.

Globally and locally, the civic engagement work our students are doing in the Mantua neighborhood, a few blocks from campus, reflects the same kind of world citizenship as the work Drexel students are doing on clean water projects in Africa.

The idea of world citizenship goes back two and a half millennia to the Greek philosopher Diogenes. He was something of an immigrant himself, having come to Athens from a Greek colony on the Black Sea. And among his many radical ideas was the notion that he was not a citizen of any of the Greek city-states, but a self-described citizen of the world.

From that evolved the word and the concept of cosmopolitanism. And true cosmopolitanism today encourages us to practice world citizenship, by reaching across political borders and past the emotional divisions like race, religion and ideology, to come together in the interest of our shared humanity and find cooperative solutions to immense problems, like climate change, pandemics, terrorism, refugees.

The need for a cosmopolitan approach to issues like this was powerfully laid out in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, in an article titled “The importance of elsewhere.” The author, Kwame Anthony Appiah — a professor of philosophy and law at New York University — points out a dangerous irony:

Just as the need for cosmopolitanism is more critical than ever, just when global society needs the best thinking of engaged world citizens, there are voices being heard in the U.S. and other countries exploiting economic uncertainty and prejudice and urging people to put on the blinders of short-sighted nationalism and xenophobia, to disengage from the rest of the world and go it alone. These voices even spread the notion that world citizenship and patriotism are mutually exclusive, when, in fact, they are mutually dependent.

We all instinctively put a priority on the needs of our own nations and neighborhoods. But for the sake of those nations and neighborhoods, we have to be sensitive to how their needs fit into the bigger picture of the global neighborhood.

So, world citizenship is not a state of elitist myopia where we focus on the global, but are blind to the local. Far from it.

Responsible world citizens heed the advice offered by Theodore Roosevelt over 100 years ago, when he said: “We need to keep our eyes on the stars and our feet on the ground.”

As Drexel graduates, you are well prepared to maintain that balance as you expand your participation as world citizens, while pursuing the careers you've been so well prepared for. That's been the path followed by our commencement speaker, Ken Frazier, who we'll be hearing from shortly.

Ken is a practicing world citizen, the leader of a global corporation who grew up in North Philadelphia, and has deep personal and professional roots in his hometown. As a corporate CEO and as a prominent attorney, he's always been willing to step up and step in — by speaking up on issues and taking action. He took time out from a busy law practice to rescue an innocent man on death row in Alabama. And he's taken summer sabbaticals to teach trial advocacy in South Africa.

Our graduates can relate to Ken Frazier's world citizenship. I'm confident you will be increasingly active and committed citizens of the world. Not only to solve the world's problems

but to build on its progress. And so much of that progress is made possible by people stepping up individually and taking action collectively.

As Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor once wrote: “There are no bystanders in life ... Our humanity makes us each part of something greater than ourselves.”

None of you has any intention of being a bystander. That speaks well for your future, and for the future of the world. Drexel is proud of you ... and so am I. Thank you, very much.

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