To address our shared challenges, we need collaboration that builds on our shared humanity

Remarks at HGSE graduation 2021 for international students

May 26, 2021

Good morning, it’s such a pleasure to see so many of you who I’ve had the pleasure to teach this year, and others of you who I am just meeting for the first time.

I am so glad to have the opportunity to say a few words to congratulate you as you near the end of your studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the day before your graduation. My message to you has three simple ideas: congratulations, thanks and change the world.

I congratulate you because I know you have earned this degree from Harvard University as the result of hard work. It took hard work for you to develop your skills and to achieve so you could be admitted, and I know that it took hard work to complete your courses in your respective programs, more so in a year we will all remember in which you had to maintain focus on your studies, while the world suffered a pandemic that took the lives of millions of people, infected many more, devastated economies, increased poverty, social inequality and caused immensurable suffering. So, I congratulate you on the capacity to maintain hope that after this long night of suffering is over, a better world will be possible, and in service of that hope you were able to maintain focus on your studies. As I congratulate you, I also want to acknowledge your loved ones, your parents, spouses, families, and friends, those who in ways big and small have supported you along your journey to reach this important milestone. This graduation is also an opportunity to celebrate their love for you, their hope in you, all they have done to sustain you. Please join me in thanking them.

But I also want to thank YOU on your graduation. I want to thank you for your commitment to work in the field of education, for your belief that a better world is possible through education, for your courage to devote your career to empower others through education. What is education but a commitment to create opportunities so that others can achieve their full potential? so they can see possibilities for themselves they had not imagined? so they can gain the skills to become architects of their own lives and contributors in shaping the communities of which they are a part? The idea that all children deserve the right to be educated is a relatively recent idea in human history, an idea expressed in the universal declaration of human rights adopted in 1948, after another long night of suffering: World War II, in which a group of visionaries understood that in order to have peace in the world we had to build a world in which all people could have certain rights, simply because they were human, including the right to education. The universal declaration of human rights is one of the highest expressions of the idea that the world is one family, that we are inextricably linked to one another, that we are members of the same species, that our commonalities, our shared interests, and our shared future, transcend every difference in how we see ourselves in relationship to other members of our human family. I want to thank you also for having come to HGSE because each one of you brings the world to this institution, in your stories and perspective you have enriched this community reminding us all that we are ONE family. This pandemic has served as a powerful reminder of our interdependence, a shared painful experience around the world, our current efforts to control the pandemic make clear that no one will be safe from losing their lives to this virus until everyone is safe. As each of you became a member of the HGSE community you helped expand the worldview, the imagination, and the awareness that educational progress needs shared work and collaboration across the entire world. The global movement to educate all children is one big family, where we need one another, learn from one another, collaborate with one another, so that we can continue to make progress in providing each person on this planet the opportunities to reach their full potential as a result of education. I thank you for bringing the world to HGSE, to your classes, to your conversations with your fellow students, with your professors. In bringing the world to your studies, you too gained a global perspective in your studies.

Finally, I want to extend an invitation. That as you graduate, you continue to take yourself seriously, that you remember the power that you have to change the world for the better, and that you have the courage to follow through in doing whatever is necessary to make the universal right to education a reality for all. Some years ago, we welcomed Malala Yousafzai to Harvard to give her an award, this was the year before she won the Nobel Prize. As she entered a large hall, about a thousand people stood up in applause. She smiled and said, ‘no, please, no. I don’t want you to think that I have done anything extraordinary. It’s just that when there is great injustice, and no one does anything, the voice of a single person can make a big difference’. This is your power too, the power to make a big difference in the face of the injustice that denies children and adults the opportunities to reach their full potential. I hope you exercise that power and that as you do, you remember you are not alone, you are member of a large community, those of you graduating tomorrow, and those who have graduated before, those who in every corner of the world lead this global education movement to educate all children. As I congratulate you and as I thank you, I want you to know that I am counting on you to make the world better, we are all counting on you.

Now go and change the world through education. Congratulations.



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Fernando M. Reimers

Expert in Global Education, researching and teaching how to educate children and youth so they can thrive in complex and fluid times.