International Education Specialist
Urges Graduates to Think Globally
Bill Franklin, president and chief executive officer of the Texas International Education Consortium, was the featured speaker at Sam Houston State University commencement exercises Saturday, Dec. 20, 1997. This is the text of his speech, which was given at the morning session but not at the afternoon ceremony, which was altered somewhat because of a power failure.
I consider it a distinct honor to participate in this important occasion for the Sam Houston State University Class of December 1997. Graduates, this is one of those days that will stand out in your memory, as well it should. Ten years, twenty years from now you will not be able to remember who delivered the commencement address, but you will remember this day. For you, for your parents, spouses, brothers, sisters and friends assembled here today, you are celebrating the achievement of an important life goal. Congratulations are certainly in order. All of us on this platform today recall the sense of achievement, and yes, relief, on the occasion of our graduations. We applaud each of you, as well as all those whose encouragement and support made this day possible.
But the primary function of a commencement speaker is not to congratulate, but to challenge. This is, after all, a Commencement ceremony -- the celebration of a beginning not an end. For the next few minutes I want to talk to you about what you can expect as you commence the rest of your life.
1. First, the world into which you go is unmatched in terms of technological change and its impact on human societies. This sounds like an awfully strong assertion. What about discoveries like the wheel? What about the invention of the printing press? What about that confluence of invention and application we call the industrial revolution? All were truly profound in both substance and consequence.
But the technological change that defines the transition of humankind into the 21st century is different in several important ways. First, we are dealing with information technology that has made worldwide human communication not only possible but almost instantaneous in terms of speed. Second, this technology makes communication increasingly resistant to political control. Third, This technology feeds on itself, making the rate of change ever faster. Additionally, this technology is changing the ways that economies function as dramatically as did the industrial revolution. Finally, this technology is creating behaviors that are redefining the meaning of community.
Welcome to the threshold of the 21st century. In this new millennium, we may decide where we want to live and work, but we must inevitably function in a world community. There will be few jobs unaffected by what is happening in other parts of the world. Small businesses, as well as large corporations will feel the ebb and flow of international developments. The turbulence of the financial markets of late are a not so subtle reminder that the US. is not an island unto itself, and all the sentimental longing for things as they once were will never bring back those days.
In business and the professions, nationality, ethnicity, and race will become totally useless as a basis of differentiating "we" and "they". GM'ers, IBM'ers, Exxon'ers, etc. will come in all nationalities, all races, all religions and all cultures. In the political arena, major policy issues will increasingly be global in nature -- for example, environmental issues, justice systems and standards, intellectual property protections, health and safety standards, etc.
2. By this time you are probably wondering what all this means to you, the members of the graduating class of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. I suggest that it means many things. First, it means that if you want to make the most of your future, you should view this day as just one milestone in a life of learning. The education you received at this fine institution is a foundation for the future It is up to you as to the structure you will build on this foundation.
The world of the 21st century means that to be successful in your chosen professions, as responsible citizens, as good spouses and parents, you must be knowledgeable about the broader world. That will take serious and continuing study of world cultures, international economics and finance, comparative education systems, etc. If you fail to pursue such learning, you will be unable to make sense of your professional or civic life. All over the world, your contemporaries are aggressively learning about the US. They pay attention to what is happening in the European Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, etc. They discuss international history and politics. They know geography. They typically speak multiple languages. They, my friends, are ready and anxious to compete with you for their share of the good life. They are not interested in adopting the American way of life in total. They see that the American way of life has limitations of its own. Also, they have their own cultures, traditions and values. They, like we, are wrestling with pluralism as the cultural norm for a world community.
3. Now you say that none of this applies to you. You are going back home to Caldwell, or Plano, or Katy, to get a job, live your life, and not worry about the rest of the world. You will leave the rest of the world to the politicians and international business people. I am here to tell you that that is no longer one of the choices open to you in a multiple choice question. The value of our currency, the demand for our skills, political stability or turmoil -- all these things that impact life on mainstreet Brenham are determined in part by what happens in Japan, or Korea, or China, Taiwan, Indonesia, or Mexico. It behooves us to know something about these countries, their people, their economies, and their values.
4. To return to the beginning of the address -- This is a commencement. The only question to be answered by each of you is, the commencement of what? The way you use what you have learned here at Sam Houston State day by day will provide the content of your answer. You can make a vow to yourself to do whatever it takes to be a knowledgeable and active citizen of the world, or you can watch the world change around you, rendering you a mere spectator that will one day no longer know the rules of the game. The former will require that you be a perpetual student; the latter will occur if you declare today the end of your school days. In a real sense, today you find yourself at a fork in the road. That immortal Philosopher, Yogi Berra said: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." I challenge you to take the fork that leads to where you want to go.
Thank you and best wishes.