Transcript of President Hamid Karzai’s Commencement Address to Boston University Class of 2005

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Commencement Address

Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan
Boston University 132nd Commencement

Such a great day to remember my own graduation.

On my graduation there was a party by the junior students, and I was given a hair brush as a gift — if I take off my hat, you know what I mean. (laughter)

President Chobanian, Senator Kerry and fellow honorees, distinguished guests and graduates. I am delighted to be sharing this special day with all of you.

Boston University has a well-earned global reputation, and it is my great privilege to be receiving an honorary degree from this fine institution.

For those of you who felt that four years was a long time to wait for your degree, well, it took me 47 years (laughter). But then, looking at our campus here and speaking with members of the faculty and the administration, I can say it was well worth the wait. I commend you all very warmly for your accomplishments today. Your commencement today is indeed the celebration of some of the best years of your lives. It is also your stepping stone to the future. With the knowledge you have gained today, you are ready to embark on a new journey; a journey that will not only shape your own lives but will also lead you to affect the lives of other people. You are going to become the future leaders of the United States, a country of unparalleled power and interest in the world today, and you are going to assume the responsibilities that come with that power.

Dear graduates, my own commencement some 23 years ago was also a stepping stone but to a different future. After my graduation, I had no home to return to because my home country had been invaded by the former Soviet Union. From the university, I was ushered into the life of a refugee in a neighboring country where I joined with my people in the struggle to liberate our country and to build a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.

A lot has changed in the world since I was your age, but, regrettably, the world is still beset by conflict, by poverty and human suffering, by injustice that violates the basic values of humanity. You are the class that began in September 2001 and as such you have been provoked perhaps more so than others to reflect on one of the gravest dangers facing our world today: terrorism. I believe for most of you, the dreadful memory of that ominous day will never fade, when thousands of innocent people in your country were indiscriminately attacked by the agents of hatred and doom. Indeed the events of 9/11 shocked the world as much as it shocked you here in America. However, terrorism in the world was not born on 9/11. In fact, for many years before September 2001, the terrorism that came to Afghanistan on the heels of invasion, interference, and violence, took the lives of thousands of our people. Regrettably the world, the United States and other countries that have the power — and hence the responsibility — did not see it compatible with their national interests to address the plight of the Afghan people then. Afghanistan was thus vulnerable to the interference of other countries in our region, who, in turn, saw their national interests in establishing control over Afghanistan at the cost of horrible suffering for the Afghan people.

Dear graduates, during your years here at Boston you have sought knowledge but you have also learned significant lessons for examining the events of the world around you. I expect that you will use your education and your values to question some of the established concepts of wisdom. In particular, I urge you to question the notion of national interest, especially when it is narrowly defined and pursued at the expense of other people — where it justifies the inflicting of pain on others and where it allows the neglect of human suffering.

I urge you to discover how moral imperative must also drive our actions even when there are no economic or political motives. (applause) I believe in a redefinition of the prevailing notion of national interest on the basis of fundamental moral premise is the way forward to our common future.

Of all, it is our humanity that ultimately brings us together while the pursuit of narrow interests divides us all. My appeal to you as the leaders of tomorrow, as people who will be in the position to make decisions of consequences, is to allow morality and the sense of fundamental concern for humanity guide your decisions.

When you see on the news or read in the newspaper that so many people were killed in places far away, do not let these numbers become mere abstractions to you. These are real people, like you and I. They are families, friends; they have pain, they have grief. We must not turn away when we hear the cries of the hungry. We must not stand by when we see the killing and terrorizing of the innocent. We should not wait until hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of our fellow human beings have died as occurred in Afghanistan, before we act. Every time we ignore the suffering of others or stand by and watch, we do not only act against our own interests but we violate a part of our humanity. And we do not have to wait for our governments to save people from misery because it will be just too late for many. As individuals, we can make a difference as well.

Not too long ago I watched a documentary filmed by the BBC of the British artist, Bob Geldof, which told the story of the famine in Ethiopia two decades ago, and that day, I really felt ashamed of myself as a human being. I watched on that documentary helpers — humanitarian workers — picking up children of two years of age or three years of age or four or five years of age who had the chance to survive, to feed them, leaving the others to die because there was no food.

Is that the world we want to leave for our future? No. I urge you to stop and work against that kind of a world.

One can feel but a sense of utter despair as a human being when one sees human misery at an appalling scale. Bob Geldorf was one individual whose concern for humanity saved thousands of children in Ethiopia. His benevolence was not simply an act of charity but a fundamental step to draw people from corners of the world for the common cause of humanity. In a different context, the coming together of the world is demonstrated in Afghanistan today where people from more than 50 countries with different cultures and faiths, different religions, are working together to build our country and uproot terrorism. This remarkable convergence of civilizations in Afghanistan has rekindled our hopes as the people of Afghanistan, secured our lives, and unleashed our energies to rebuild our war-shattered country. Thanks to that help, and our people’s determination, today, Afghanistan is a free country. (applause)

Taking steady steps toward a stable, prosperous, and progressive society, after decades of trouble, we have an enlightened and progressive constitution. We have an elected government and are looking forward to electing our parliament in September. After decades of stagnation our civil society is once again vibrant; our economy is growing fast, and we are becoming a hub of trade in the region.

Of course, challenges like the drug economy, remnants of terrorism, and crime threaten to reverse our successes. However, these will not surmount our resolve and the international commitment to succeed.

Over the past three years, through our experiences in what has been a truly global effort to rebuild Afghanistan, we have demonstrated what the future of the world can hold. Afghanistan today represents a moral accomplishment in the world, a cooperation of civilizations, in fact.

Dear graduates, I say again, that your values must continue to guide you, as you embark on your new journey and assume greater responsibility. Our world will remain stratified and divided by exclusively narrowly defined interests unless you seek to build bridges of understanding and cooperation. Suffering in other parts of the world will continue to undermine your security and prosperity unless you seek to address it. Moral obligations to others will continue to be an afterthought unless you decide to reinvigorate our common humanity across our divisions.

And finally, your generation will also be judged on indifference to hunger, to poverty, and misery in the world unless you seize opportunities to make a difference. As you commence a new beginning today, take with you my warmest congratulations. ,I urge you to fight poverty, to build bridges, in other words to uphold our common humanity.

Good luck to you. (applause)