Meeting our Responsibilities as Global Citizens
Meeting our Responsibilities as Global Citizens
October 26, 2011
MEETING OUR RESPONSIBILITIES AS GLOBAL CITIZENS
I want to start by thanking Principal Sir Timothy O'Shea for that very generous introduction and his warm hospitality.
Admiration and praise is due to Sir Timothy for the excellent and extraordinary work that he is doing at this outstanding university.
A university associated with 15 Nobel Prize winners; three Prime Ministers; two signatories of the Declaration of Independence; and one astronaut.
A university with a long-standing record of excellence in the study of America.
And a university with proud contemporary links to the United States - including more than 1600 Americans studying here; collaborations with at least seven U.S. universities; and home to the Scottish Transatlantic Relations Project.
I also want to acknowledge everyone, especially the students for coming here today.
I know there are competing attractions where you may rather be. The Pear Tree…The Blind Poet…The Green Mantle…Malone’s.
When my son went to university, I would phone him from time to time to see how he was doing. He was never in, but his friends would always tell me he was in the library.
What they did not know was that I had gone to the same university - and I knew that ‘The Library’ was the name of a famous local bar.
One of the joys of my role as Ambassador, is the chance to visit great universities like this - and to meet and talk with smart, enthusiastic and energetic students and faculty.
With all the immense challenges that we face in the world today, the need for young people to express their hopes and aspirations is more important than ever.
We need your passion and your ideas. We need you to make your mark. We need you to make a difference.
Obviously, that starts with your formal education and taking full advantage of the benefits of the first-class teaching here at Edinburgh, which will help prepare you for your future careers and endeavors.
But keep in mind that some of the greatest lessons often take place outside the classroom or lecture theater.
From the people you meet, the places you go, and the experiences you have.
I have learned from my interactions with students at other universities that now is the time when you are trying to find your voice, and trying to understand your place in the world.
Soon enough, you will be leaders in businesses, law, education, and perhaps even government.
What I want to emphasize this morning, however, is that my generation does not just see you as leaders of tomorrow, but – in many cases - as leaders of today.
While I am far from being an expert on Facebook and Twitter, you – the internet generation - are already interacting with the world in a way that my generation just didn’t when we were at university.
That gives you the opportunity to involve yourself in today’s inter-connected world.
That is so important because issues like the economy, security, climate change and poverty affect us all - wherever we live, whatever our faith; whether we are rich or poor, learned or uneducated, old or young.
No longer are we immune or isolated from events elsewhere around the world.
The banking crisis of 2008 taught us that what happens in the financial sector of one country, affects the economies of every country.
Likewise, the painful lesson of global terrorism is that it does not just cross moral boundaries but international ones too - and so is a threat to us all.
We know that pollution from a coal-fired power station in Asia alters the weather in Europe; or that toxic waste dumped in the sea off South America kills marine life off the coast of Australia.
And if we don’t help the world’s poorest, then we don’t just fail morally, we also pay the price in increased terrorism, crime, mass migration, and environmental devastation.
Our complex and interrelated world means, therefore, that we all share an interest in overcoming the global challenges that face us – and no one has a greater stake in the outcome than you do.
So one of the challenges for your generation is to take on and meet the challenges of today.
As President Obama recognized in his landmark speech in Cairo two years ago, young people “more than anyone; have the ability to re-imagine the world, to remake this world”.
No example of that is greater than the events we have witnessed in the Arab Awakening.
In Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere young people like you - with incredible courage and dignity, are leading revolutions.
They have faced intimidation, oppression, and violence but they have stood firm - determined to take control of their destinies.
As they do so, they are rejecting the corrupt voices of autocrats and the dark voices of violent extremists.
These inspiring young people have started to change their countries and – with that – the region, and – with that – the world.
Certainly, there are anxieties around these momentous events. Clearly, the sectarian clashes in Egypt this past month concern us deeply.
But the United States believes that young people in these countries have the talent and drive to build enduring democracies and resilient economies.
It will take time, effort, and patience to achieve their goals – and the challenge, indeed the responsibility, for youth in the Arab world now is to transform protest into leadership.
Now, of course, no one is expecting you to go out and lead a revolution.
And it may be a few years down the road before someone in this room solves our energy problems by figuring out how cars can run effectively on solar power; or how you transform the prospects of communities in the developing world by discovering a cure for AIDS.
But there are many other ways that you can make a contribution.
Someone I know who became an active citizen right after he left college is President Obama.
I met him for the first time in 2002, when he was running for the U.S. Senate. One of the things that inspired me then, and continues to inspire me is his commitment to civic activism.
President Obama came from a modest family and a broken home. He studied hard and ended up graduating from Columbia, one of the top universities in America.
Harvard, then big jobs and six-figure salaries awaited him.
But he chose a very different route to start with. He decided to become a community organizer in the Greater Roseland neighborhood on Chicago’s far South Side.
It’s a tough district with high levels of poverty and gang violence.
He helped set up a jobs training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants' rights organization.
Even when he later graduated from Harvard Law School, having been the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, President Obama chose to stay closely involved with his community.
He did not do any of this to get a big office – and he certainly did not do it for the salary.
He did it because he recognized the value of trying to make a difference in a community that he felt had been left behind.
As a young graduate, Barack Obama was trying to do something worthwhile for society.
Today as President, he believes in the dividend from investing in youth even more strongly.
That is why - during his State Visit to the UK last May - the President and Prime Minister Cameron strengthened the partnership between our Peace Corps and the UK’s Voluntary Service Overseas organization.
By harnessing the power and ideals of youth, this collaboration will help transform the lives of millions of poor and marginalized people in more than 25 countries.
Peace Corps and VSO will together address urgent development priorities in areas such as health, education, HIV/AIDS, gender, and climate change.
This partnership promotes the value of volunteering in global development.
It brings together young people from all walks of life, who share common attributes: they are inspirational; they are dedicated to improving the lives of others; above all, they are leaders abroad.
Their experience living in another country helps shape their view of the world.
It gives them a unique insight into other cultures and societies. It allows them to learn.
Educational exchanges offer similar journeys of discovery that also promote mutual respect and mutual understanding through personal experience.
The United States places strong emphasis on exchange programs and scholarships - and we are committed to sustaining and strengthening them.
To that end, we appreciate the support of the Scottish Government, which helps fund Fulbright programs here at Edinburgh and at five other Scottish universities.
Volunteering or studying abroad is the kind of opportunity you may want to consider.
Because in today’s tumultuous world, we need the greater respect and understanding that comes from these opportunities more than ever.
Now, I am not suggesting things are easy or that you don’t have anxieties as individuals that are a little closer to home.
You are all going to be graduating at a time of great uncertainty. Everything seems unsettled, unclear, and intimidating.
Faith in many of the old certainties of the past is being questioned. Basic things like, ‘Will I get a good job?’; ‘Can I afford to buy a home?’, ‘Will I do better than my parents?’
I’m sure these are questions on the minds of some of you in this audience.
This is where government has a responsibility. Responsibility to create the climate for you to thrive, supplying the tools you need to succeed in the 21st century global economy.
It is obvious that our countries will only be as strong in this new century as the opportunities provided to your generation.
That is why I am so proud that President Obama has made it a priority to invest now in infrastructure, innovation, and - above all - education.
Today companies can locate to virtually anywhere in the world - and the single most important thing they look for is a highly skilled, highly educated workforce.
When I met representatives of U.S. businesses with operations here in Scotland yesterday, it was one of the messages they reinforced.
So even as both the U.S. and UK make necessary, unavoidable and substantial cuts in public spending, I believe that we cannot afford to allow a generation to fall behind.
History teaches us that countries prosper most when they unlock the potential of all their citizens – especially their young people.
We see this strategy bearing fruit now in the emerging economies, as Governments figure out how to unleash the power of their large youth populations.
It is one of the reasons that America sees such possibility for those nations involved in the Arab Awakening.
These are countries where 60, 70 – and in some cases - 80 per cent of the population is under the age of 30.
So we are supporting the democratic transitions taking place with a number of aid and assistance programs that will help let loose economic opportunity for these young people.
Because with jobs and a prosperous future will come stability in a region beset for decades by conflict and corruption.
In spite of economic hardship in the U.S., America remains committed to investing in development and opportunity abroad.
I have heard often the understandable refrain: “Surely, America has enough problems of its own to sort out.”
It is true that one of the most serious challenges facing both the U.S. and UK governments is to reduce deficits, cut unemployment, and encourage economic growth at home.
But I believe that turning inwards, embracing isolationism as is being suggested by some, is cynical and counter-productive.
Retreating from the world, or refusing to undertake our global responsibilities, will undermine our values and interests across the board.
On the other hand, if we meet our responsibilities then we will reap the reward of greater global prosperity and security.
Not only that - as globalization and modern technology makes the world increasingly inter-connected, I believe that we simply cannot be bystanders.
We have to play our part.
So I encourage you not to be onlookers but to be players. To engage fully with your world. To see the challenges faced by the global community as your challenges.
Fifty years ago, in his famous inaugural address, President Kennedy, declared that the ‘torch has been passed to a new generation’.
I believe we are now witnessing a similar shift.
And nothing inspires me more than knowing that young people all across the world are ready to receive the torch.
Many are already making their marks.
My message today is that you do not have to wait to make a difference. Your world needs your leadership; and that means undertaking responsibility.
Your challenge is to decide how you will make your contributions.
I’d like to end with a brief story about a young African-American called Anthony who came to work as an intern in my office.
He wrote me after his time at the Embassy and told me how he had grown up in a poor family in rural Georgia.
He said that just before he went to college, his grandfather told him that the two most important things for him to remember were: one – protect your reputation; and two – always follow your dreams.
I can’t think of a better two better pieces of advice to keep in mind as you embark on your futures.
Thank you very much; I know you have some questions. So let’s talk.