COMMENCEMENT 1997

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright delivered a Commencement address during Afternoon Exercises on June 5. The following are excerpts of her speech:

I'm delighted to be here on this day of celebration and rededication. To those of you who are here from the Class of '97, I say congratulations. You may be in debt, but you made it. And if you're not in debt now, after the alumni association gets through with you, you will be.

In fact, I would like to solicit the help of this audience for the State Department budget. It is under $20 billion.

As a former professor and current mother, I confess to loving graduation days -- especially when they are accompanied by an honorary degree. I love the ceremony; I love the academic settings; and although it will be difficult for me today--let's be honest--I love to daydream during the commencement speech.

Graduations are unique among the milestones of our lives, because they celebrate past accomplishments, while also anticipating the future.

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Today, we recall another turning point in that era. For on this day 50 years ago, Secretary of State George Marshall addressed the graduating students of this great university. He spoke to a class enriched by many who had fought for freedom and deprived of many who had fought for freedom and died. The Secretary's words were plain; but his message reached far beyond the audience assembled in this yard to an American people weary of war and wary of new commitments, and to a Europe where life-giving connections between farm and market, enterprise and capital, hope and future had been severed.

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British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin called the Marshall Plan a "lifeline to sinking men," and it was--although I expect some women in Europe were equally appreciative.

By extending that lifeline, America helped unify Europe's west around democratic principles and planted seeds of transatlantic partnership that would soon blossom in the form of NATO and the cooperative institutions of a new Europe. Just as important was the expression of American leadership that the Marshall Plan conveyed.

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Today, in the wake of the Cold War, it is not enough for us to say that Communism has failed. We, too, must heed the lessons of the past, accept responsibility and lead. Because we are entering a century in which there will be many interconnected centers of population, power and wealth, we cannot limit our focus, as Marshall did in his speech to the devastated battleground of a prior war. Our vision must encompass not one, but every continent.

Unlike Marshall's generation, we face no single galvanizing threat. The dangers we confront are less visible and more diverse -- some as old as ethnic conflict, some as new as letter bombs, some as subtle as climate change and some as deadly as nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands. To defend against these threats, we must take advantage of the historic opportunity that now exists to bring the world together in an international system based on democracy, open markets, law and a commitment to peace.

Let every nation acknowledge today the opportunity to be part of an international system based on democratic principles is available to all. This was not the case 50 years ago.

Then, my father's boss, Jan Masaryk--foreign minister of what was then Czechoslovakia--was told by Stalin in Moscow that his country must not participate in the Marshall Plan, despite its national interest in doing so. Upon his return to Prague, Masaryk said it was at that moment, he understood he was employed by a government no longer sovereign in its own land.

Today, there is no Stalin to give orders. If a nation is isolated from the international community now, it is either because the country is simply too weak to meet international standards or because its leaders have chosen willfully to disregard those standards.

Last week in the Netherlands, President Clinton said that no democratic nation in Europe would be left out of the transatlantic community.

Today I say that no nation in the world need be left out of the global system we are constructing. And every nation that seeks to participate and is willing to do all it can to help itself will have America's help in finding the right path.

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The Cold War's shadow no longer darkens Europe. But one specter from the past does remain. History teaches us that there is no natural geographic or political endpoint to conflict in the Balkans, where World War I began and where the worst European violence of the past half-century occurred in this decade. That is why the peaceful integration of Europe will not be complete until the Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia are fulfilled.

When defending the boldness of the Marshall Plan 50 years ago, Senator Arthur Vandenberg observed that it does little good to extend a 15-foot rope to a man drowning 20 feet away. Similarly, we cannot achieve our objectives in Bosnia by doing just enough to avoid immediate war. We must do all we can to help the people of Bosnia to achieve permanent peace.

In recent days, President Clinton has approved steps to make the peace process irreversible, and give each party a clear stake in its success.

This past weekend, I went to the region to deliver in person the message that if the parties want international acceptance or our aid, they must meet their commitments--including full cooperation with the international war crimes tribunal.

That tribunal represents a choice not only for Bosnia and Rwanda, but for the world. We can accept atrocities as inevitable, or we can strive for a higher standard. We can presume to forget what only God and the victims have standing to forgive, or we can heed the most searing lesson of this century which is that evil, when unopposed, will spawn more evil.

The majority of Bosnia killings occurred not in battle, but in markets, streets and playgrounds, where men and women like you and me, and boys and girls like those we know, were abused or murdered--not because of anything they had done, but simply for who they were.

We all have a stake in establishing a precedent that will deter future atrocities, in helping the tribunal make a lasting peace easier by separating the innocent from the guilty; in holding accountable the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing; and in seeing that those who consider rape just another tactic of war answer for their crimes. Since George Marshall's time, the United States has played the leading role within the international system--not as sole arbiter of right and wrong, for that is a responsibility widely shared, but as pathfinder--as the nation able to show the way when others cannot.

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But America cannot do the job alone. We can point the way and find the path, but others must be willing to come along and take responsibility for their own affairs. Others must be willing to act within the bounds of their own resources and capabilities to join in building a world in which shared economic growth is possible, violent conflicts are constrained and those who abide by the law are progressively more secure.

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As this great university has recognized, in the foreign students it has attracted the research it conducts, the courses it offers and the sensibility it conveys, those of you who have graduated today will live global lives. You will compete in a world marketplace; travel further and more often than any previous generation; share ideas, tastes and experiences with counterparts from every culture; and recognize that to have a full and rewarding future, you will have to look outwards.

As you do, and as our country does, we must aspire to set high standards set by Marshall, using means adapted to our time, based on values that endure for all time; and never forgetting that America belongs on the side of freedom.

I say this to you as Secretary of State. I say it also as one of the many people whose lives have been shaped by the turbulence of Europe during the middle of this century and by the leadership of America throughout this century.

I can still remember in England, during the war, sitting in the bomb shelter, singing away the fear and thanking God for American help. I can still remember, after the war and after the Communist takeover in Prague, arriving here in the United States, where I wanted only to be accepted and to make my parents and my new country proud.

Because my parents fled in time, I escaped Hitler. To our shared and constant sorrow, millions did not.

Because of America's generosity, I escaped Stalin. Millions did not.

Because of the vision of the Truman-Marshall generation, I have been privileged to live my life in freedom.

Millions have still never had that opportunity. It may be hard for you, who have no memory of that time 50 years ago, to understand. But it is necessary that you try to understand.

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Two full generations of Americans have grown up since that war--first mine, now yours; two generation of boys and girls, who have seen the veterans at picnics and parades and fireworks saluting with medals and ribbons on their chests; seeing the pride in their bearing and thinking, perhaps, what a fine thing it must have been--to be tested in a great cause and to have prevailed.

But today of all days, let us not forget that behind each medal and ribbon, there is a story of heroism yes, but also profound sadness; for World War II was not a good war. From North Africa to Salerno, from Normandy to the Bulge to Berlin, an entire continent lost to fascism had to be taken back, village by village, hill by hill. And further eastward, from Tarawa to Okinawa, the death struggle for Asia was an assault against dug-in positions, surmounted only by unbelievable courage at unbearable loss.

Today, the greatest danger to America is not some foreign enemy. It is the possibility that we will fail to hear the example of that generation; that we will allow the momentum towards democracy to stall; take for granted the institutions and principles upon which our own freedom is based; and forget what the history of this century reminds us--that problems abroad, if left unattended, will all too often come home to America.

A decade or two from now, we will be known as neo-isolationists who allowed tyranny and lawlessness to rise again; or as the generation that solidified the global triumph of democratic principles. We will be known as the neo-protectionists, whose lack of vision produced financial meltdown; or as the generation that laid the groundwork for rising prosperity around the world. We will be known as the world-class ditherers, who stood by while the seeds of renewed global conflict were sown; or as the generation that took strong measures to forge alliances, deter aggression and keep the peace.

There is no certain road map to success, either for individuals or for generations. Ultimately, it is a matter of judgment, a question of choice.

In making that choice, let us remember that there is not a page of American history, of which we are proud, that was authored by a chronic complainer or prophet of despair. We are doers. We have a responsibility, as others have had in theirs, not to be prisoners of history, but to shape history; a responsibility to fill the role of pathfinder, and to build with others a global network of purpose and law that will protect our citizens, defend our interests, preserve our values and bequeath to future generations a legacy as proud as the one we honor today.

To that mission, I pledge my own best efforts and summon yours.

Thank you very, very much.