Fareed Zakaria Commencement Speech || Harvard University Commencement 2012

Our speaker this afternoon is a celebrated thought leader on international affairs named by
Foreign Policy as one of the top one hundred global thinkers perhaps most visible as the host of
CNN’s flagship international affairs program a role he’s held since 2008 he’s also editor-at-large at Time
Magazine, a Washington Post columnist and a New York Times best-selling author. He was introduced as Time Editor at
Large in 2010 after a decade as editor of Newsweek
International overseeing all the magazines’ editions abroad. Before this, he was hired at the age of
twenty eight as the managing editor of Foreign Affairs He’s the author of numerous books,
articles and columns and the recipient of equally numerous
honors including a National Magazine Award in 2001 for his influential Newsweek cover story, “Why They Hate Us”. Born in Mumbai our speaker did venture to Yale to
receive his bachelor’s degree but continued on to harvard Thus perhaps dashing poor Eli’s hopes as we all just sang a moment ago starting with Samuel P. Huntington and
Stanley Hoffman to earn a Ph.D in political science. He’s a respected scholar, a talented journalist, and one of our
foremost alumni voices on global affairs. Please join me in welcoming Fareed Zakaria. thank you so much President Faust, members of the
Corporation, members of the Board of Overseers, ladies and gentlemen Above all, students, graduating students,
thank you so much for asking me to do this. I have to say to the students here you are already way ahead of me you see I actually have never made my commencement either from
college or from my Ph.D. program i did as you heard there was a small
college south of here in the little town called
New Haven uh… and I perhaps got it wrong and
celebrated a little bit too much the night before commencement uh… so the honest truth is I slept
through my college commencement when I finally made it to harvard I got
a job before commencement and had to be working in New York and couldn’t take the
day off. I got my degree in the mail. Some 19 years later I’m finally honored to receive in person a Harvard degree.
Thank you. Harvard was for me a dazzling
revelation contrary to the conventional wisdom on
this campus it is possible to get a fine education at Yale, which i did but the great graduate programs of
Harvard in their scope, in their scale, in their worldliness and
ambition were just an electric experience and i soaked
it in Now, to get a Ph.D. involves many many
hours of grueling work it also involves many hours of goofing
off acquiring hobbies and interests and
uh… exploiting the great resources of this university i mean the libraries and the cafes and I did all of that and gained from it immeasurably. I learned from faculty, from students, from visitors but what I remember most was that Harvard is the place that I
learned to think and owe this university as a result a deep debt of gratitude something I think all of you share with
me and something the development office
will remind you all from time to time I’ve always been wary of making
commencement speeches. I don’t think of myself as old enough to really have any wisdom to impart, but there’s nothing like having children
to remind you of how old you are. My nine-year-old daughter is here with me now uh… or to remind you about deeply uncool you are so I’m gonna take on this task with some trepidation. The best commencement speech I ever heard, or heard of was by Art Buchwald, the humorist. His address was short, was brief. He simply said ladies and gentlemen remember we are
leaving you a perfect world don’t screw it up. Now you are not likely to hear that
message much these days. Instead you’re likely to hear that we
are living in green economic times the graduates are going to be told that
they are graduating into the slowest, economic recovery since World War Two and it’s not just economic worries ever since nine eleven we have been
worried about terrorism, fearful of the dangers of new attacks, that have in many ways altered our daily lives. Then there are larger concerns you hear
about the earth is getting hotter, we’re
running out of water, a billion people are trapped in terrible poverty. So I want to sketch out for you perhaps with a little bit of historical
perspective the world as I see it. The world we live in his first of all
at peace profoundly so the richest countries of the world are
not in major geopolitical, geomilitary competition with one another no arms races, no proxy races, no
wars, no cold wars among the richest countries of the world. You would have to go back hundreds of years to find an equivalent period of
political stability. I know that you see a bomb going off in Afghanistan or
hear of a terror plot in New York and worry about the safety and security of our times. But here is the data: the number of people who have died as a result of war, civil war, and yes, terrorism, is down fifty percent this decade from the 1990s it is down seventy five percent from the
preceding five decades. It is down of course the ninety nine percent from the
decade before that which was World War Two. Steven Pinker argues that we are living
in the most peaceful times in human history. And he should know because he is a
Harvard professor. The political stability that we’ve
experienced has allowed the creation of a single global economy that has allowed countries from all over the world to participate and flourish. In 1980 the number of
countries that were growing up four percent a year, with robust growth was about sixteen. By 2007 that number
had doubled and even after the financial
crisis that number stands today at about eighty. Countries around the world are thriving
and flourishing in a way that was previously unimaginable. Even in the current decade with all
its slow growth the global economy as a whole would grow
ten to twenty percent faster than it did last decade sixty-percent faster than it did two
decades ago and five times as fast as it did three
decades ago. The result is that the united nations
estimates in the last fifty years poverty has been reduced more than in
the preceding five hundred years. Most of that reduction has taken place
in the last twenty. The average Chinese person is today ten
times richer that he or she was fifty years ago with twenty five years more of life
expectancy. Life expectancy has risen across the
world dramatically. we gain five hours of life expectancy everyday. Imagine that, without even
exercising! a court of all the babies born in the
developed world this year will live to be a hundred. All this is, of course, because of rising
standards of living of hygiene and medicine. Atul Gawande, another Harvard
professor who was also a practicing surgeon, who also writes for the New Yorker
magazine tells of a nineteenth century operation perhaps not so one common In this case, the surgeon was trying to amputate the patient’s leg. He succeeded. He also, however, amputated his assistant’s
hand. The two patients, I suppose one would call
them died of sepsis. An onlooker died of shock. It is the only known medical procedure
to have a three hundred percent fatality. We’ve come a long way. To understand the astonishing age of
progress just look at the cell phones you have in
your pockets. and yes, I know many of you don’t have
them in your pockets — they are already out, and you are looking at them right now. That cell phone has more computing power
than the Apollo space capsule that went to the moon. That capsule couldn’t even tweet. So imagine the opportunities that lie
ahead. Moore’s Law, which says that computing
power will double every eighteen months while costs have may be petering out in the realm of information technology. But there are other arenas in which it
is accelerating. The human genome is being sequenced
at a pace faster than Moore’s Law. A third industrial revolution involving
material science and the customization of manufacturing is yet in its infancy. And all of these fields are beginning to
intersect and produce new opportunities in ways that we can’t even imagine. The good news goes on. Look at the number
of graduates globally from colleges. That number has risen four-fold in the
last forty years for men. It has risen sevenfold for women. And if you’re wondering whether or not that age old question how
women smarter than men has been answered, the evidence is now overwhelming. The answer is yes. My favorite example of this is that there
was a study done That over the last twenty five years female representatives, members of the
House of Representatives have had managed to get forty nine million
dollars more in federal grant money than their male counterparts. So even at pork barrel spending it turns out women
are better than men. And so i look forward from the villages
in Africa to the board rooms of America To the increasing participation of women
which is going to enrich and ennoble our world. Now you might listen to all this and say You might listen to all this and say, well, this
is all a very good for the world but what does it mean for America? Well, a world at peace brought prosperity,
the rise of the rest is going to be particularly good for the
United States because let me remind you this is the
country with the largest and most dynamic economy in the world that hosts hundreds of the world’s greatest
companies that dominates the age of technology It has almost all of the world’s
great universities There is in China and India no Harvard
and there will not be for decades, perhaps ever. the United States is also a vital
society It is the only country in the industrialized world that is demographically vibrant. We add three million people to this
country every year. That is itself a powerful life force, and it is made stronger by the fact that so many of these people are
immigrants. They… I should say, we come to this country with
aspirations, with drive, with determination and we develop a fierce
love of this country. America in 2050 will
have a better demographic profile than China. So this country has its problems, but i would rather have America’s
problems than most any other countries in the
world. When I tell you that we’re living in
an astonishing age of progress, I am not urging complacency, far from it. We have been through a century of
extraordinary troubles: world wars depressions cold wars and dozens of other smaller
challenges but each of those challenges has been
matched by a response. Human action and human achievement have
managed to take on and best terrible problems. We forget our successes in 2009 the H1N1 virus broke out in
Mexico. Now, if you look back at the trajectory
of these kinds of viruses it’s quite conceivable that this one
would have spread like the asian flu of 1957 or 1968 which cost four million lives. But this time, the Mexican health
authorities identified the problem early, shared the information with the World
Health Organization learned best practices tracked down where the outbreak took place,
quarantined people, vaccinated others. The country went on a full-scale alert in a very Catholic country it was not allowed to go to church for three Sundays. Perhaps more importantly you couldn’t go
to a soccer game for three weeks. But the result was that the virus was contained to the point where three months later
people asked what was the fuss and wondered whether we had overreacted. We hadn’t overreacted. We had reacted. We have responded. And we had dealt with the problem. There are other examples. In the twelve months following the
economic peak in 2008 industrial production worldwide fell as
much as it did in the first year of the great
depression. Equity prices and global trade actually
fell more. Yet this time no great depression followed. Why? Because of the coordinated actions of
governments around the world. 9/11 did not usher in an age of terrorism with Al Qaeda going from strength to strength. Why? Because countries cooperated in
fighting them and other terrorists around the world with considerable success. When we come together when we put aside our petty differences when we cooperate the results are astounding. So when we look at all these problems we
face economic crises, terrorism, climate change, resource scarcity- keep in mind that these are real problems but that the human reaction and response
to them will be real. you can easily map out the big problem but it’s much more difficult to map out the thousands of individual
actions that governments, firms, organizations, researchers, scientists, and ordinary people will take that will collectively constitute the solution. In a sense I’m betting on the graduates
of this great university. I believe that your actions will have
consequences. your efforts will make a difference. And according to the graduates I know of
this kind of event, I’m supposed to provide some advice. So, should you go into nanotechnology or
bioengineering and the answer is that I haven’t a clue. I honestly don’t know what the great
trends of the future or industries of the future will be. But I do know one thing: that human
beings will probably continue to reward those talents of heart and mind that
they have always rewarded for thousands of years. Intelligence, hard work, discipline, courage, perhaps above all love and faith these are the things that at the end of the day make for a
great life; one that is rewarded by the outside world. An equally importantly a good life one
that is rewarded by only those you know best. These are the virtues that people honor. These are the virtues that people have
built statues for five thousand years and to which they will be statues for
the next five thousand years… well nobody does statues anymore. They build weird, metal, modernist sculptures with strange doodads hanging
off them but you get my general point. Trust yourself. You know what kind of
life you should live. You don’t need an ethics course to tell you what not to do. Trust in your instincts and you will
build a great life you will build a good life and you will change the world. You know, I said at my age that I don’t
have written much specific wisdom to impart I have one final piece of advice for the graduates and it is a piece of advice that is
gained from experience not books. Trust me about this. You will never understand how much your
parents love you until you have children of your own. Once you have children of your own, once you have children of your own, all
that strange behavior- the stalking, the worrying- it all makes sense. But do me a favor don’t wait so long. My mother lives eight thousand miles
away and I think about this every day. Don’t wait so long. Get up today of all days and hug your
parents and tell them you love them. Thank you ladies and gentlemen, and to the graduates of Harvard, godspeed.

Maurice Vega

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