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Transcript of Stanford Commencement address by Mexican President Felipe Calderón

Thank you.  Dear graduates of Stanford, it's a great honor to address you today.  I thank President Hennessy, the faculty and all of you for this invitation.

Mr. President, next time, I will enroll at Stanford.

First of all, many congratulations to all of you. I know you feel excited and proud of your accomplishment.  Your parents should also be applauded because you are here in a large part thanks to them.

Know there are many Mexican and Mexican-American students graduating today.

So, let me say to them and to all Latinos... (Speaks Spanish).

For all of you here today, your classes are over. However, the meaning of this ceremony, as the name suggests, is one of beginning, not end. This is a commencement. Today is the beginning of a new stage in your life. Many among you will be successful businessmen and women, lawyers or writers. But beyond graduating in science or the arts, beyond becoming a great doctor or engineer, the key to life is to graduate as a human being. A good citizen of your country, and a good citizen of the world. Today you leave Stanford with the best tools and the most advanced knowledge. To graduate from this university, it's a great honor and a huge responsibility.

What does it mean to have such a distinguished privilege?  It means that you have the opportunity to serve others and to become an agent for the kind of positive change this world needs, with the talent and courage to act and to do what so many have said was impossible.

This is the question you must ask yourselves right now. Do you want to be just another person who goes through life without making your mark? Or as Gandhi said, do you want to be the change you want to see? And now that a new stage of your life is about to begin, give true meaning to your existence.  Find the meaning why you are here now in 2011 on this beautiful planet. Embrace your ideas and fight for them with all your heart. It doesn't matter how hard it seems. Fight the good fight, and defend your principles in the face of adversity.

Let me share with you a personal experience. When I was your age, Mexico still had an autocratic regime. All the state governors and all the senators came from the same party. For many decades, that one party controlled everything, what the media was allowed to say, what the school should teach, which rock concerts were permitted. Everything.

When students, just like you, protested, they were massacred. Many opponents of the regime would simply disappear.  However, around the country, hope stayed alive and there was a determined and peaceful struggle for democracy.

In Morelia, my hometown, it was precisely my father who organized the struggling opposition. Those were very difficult times. My brothers, my sister and I used to go with him on these heroic and utopian crusades. As a boy, I enjoyed handing out fliers, knocking on doors, and shouting slogans through an old sound system on the roof of an old van.

Step by step, the force of democracy started to grow. But sadly electoral fraud grew as well. One day, I said enough. And filled with rage at the frustrating abuse of power, I went to my father and complained that our efforts were useless. Why all of this effort if the people don't care, and when they do, the government steals votes and victories from us. So, what is the point, Dad? 

And he told me, I understand your anger, but we are doing this because it is the right thing to do. Because it's our moral duty to the country.  And he also told me this, we may never see someone from our party become president, not even governor. But the only way to change Mexico peacefully is to appeal to people's conscience, and if we don't do that, nobody will.

He died before Mexico's deep transformation to democracy.  And some years afterwards, against all odds, I was elected President of Mexico.

I think I never thanked him enough for his advice. And because I cannot tell him personally, I'm telling you instead.  You must never, ever, stop defending your ideas and dreams.  Believe and fight for something you can bequeath to those who come behind you. And do not hesitate in your efforts, because in the end, man's power to create is bigger than his power to destroy.

You have to give meaning to your life.  And to do so, you have to embrace with passion the things that you believe in, and that you are fighting for. Be sure of your principles and never, never give up on them. The world is waiting for you.  That world, the one you will be responsible for, faces many different challenges. 

The list is really long. Climate change, human rights protection, migration of people looking for opportunities and contributing to the prosperity of other societies. Poverty, terrorism, pandemics, economic crisis, and unemployment. Organized crime and illegal drugs market, combined with the insatiable greed behind the business of guns and weapons that cost too many young lives in my own country and around the world.

Out of this, allow me to talk about just two of them. Some 40 years ago, the Club of Rome, the famous think tank, decided to analyze the major trends of humanity. They gathered all possible information and published a report called, "Mankind at the Turning Point." And I quote, "Two gaps steadily widening appear to be at the heart of mankind's present crisis. The gap between man and nature, and the gap between north and south, rich and poor. Both gaps must be narrow if world shattering catastrophes are to be avoided."

Today those two challenges are still there, and they constitute a serious threat. Poverty has risen. More than a billion people live on less than one dollar a day. Similarly, the Earth's average temperature rose one degree Celsius last century due to rising carbon emissions. And if we fail to act, our planet's average temperature could rise as much as five degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

Global warming has caused a dramatic change to the world's weather. We don't have to go far to find those catastrophes. Here in the United States today, we can see the devastating impacts of climate change. Unprecedented flooding of the Mississippi. More frequent and violent tornadoes that have killed hundreds of people have appeared even in Massachusetts.  Destructive hurricanes like Katrina. Not to mention the floods in Pakistan or droughts in Africa or Russia.

We knew about this 40 years ago, and it has only grown worse ever since. What has prevented us from closing these gaps? Perhaps one big mistake was to assume that we need to choose between fostering economic growth and preserving nature. And that is a false dilemma. It is possible to promote economic growth and at the same time preserve nature. It is possible to fight poverty and fight climate change simultaneously.

And this false dilemma must be debunked with the tools of science and with all the knowledge and wisdom we have at our disposal.  These are the things we must do. Design and build pragmatic solutions which demonstrate that there is a part for low carbon economic growth. I am positive that both gaps must and can be closed at the same time. Find practical solutions here in Stanford to reduce poverty and mitigate climate change at the same time.

And to achieve this, the world needs the best of the best.  The best students, the best scientists, the best minds and souls. Stanford, with its enormous talent, must focus on the need to pursue a path of sustainable development and solving today's problems with modern technologies.

For instance, Stanford researchers have found a new way to purify water with nanotechnology. Today we are using more energy than ever before. But there are still millions and millions of people with no access to electricity. We must find a way to produce cheap renewable energy and make it available to those that need it.

Other case, we are losing woodlands and rain forests at a frightening pace, increasing carbon emission because the poor communities living there practically eat the forest. But there are ways to stop this. For instance, in Mexico for centuries, indigenous communities that own the forests had no choice but to chop down the trees and plant grains, and still they could not feed their families. The end result was more and more forestry destroyed and more and more hungry people.

Now we have learned that water, the oxygen and the carbon sequestrations from those forests are public goods. And we all have to pay for them. And today in Mexico we have a program called pro-adible which pays with taxpayers' money for the environmental services that those communities provide. So they are able to preserve or reforest the woodlands and at the same time to receive a real income for their families. And we are proving that it is possible to stop deforestation and at the same time alleviate poverty.

With all of your learning, I'm sure that, for instance, you can design solutions and public policies to prevent deforestation and soil degradations and by doing so, you will be solving more than 20 percent of global carbon emissions. And there are many other enormous opportunities to solve large problems like this one.

Dear students, you have come a long way. But there are new and more relevant horizons ahead. One last piece of advice.  Enjoy life! Seek happiness actively. That is the essence of being alive. Find the meaning of your existence. Fill your life with that meaning and enjoy every moment. Think of the goals you want to reach, but above all, enjoy and live the beautiful journey.

As the poem "Ithaka" by the Greek Cavafy says:

As you set out for Ithaka / hope your road is a long one / full of adventure, full of discovery. ... You will enter ports seen for the first time; / shop at Phoenician markets / and purchase fine merchandise. ... Always keep Ithaka in your mind. ... But do not hurry the voyage at all.  / It is better to let it last for many years, / and to anchor at the island when you are old. ... Ithaka has given you the beautiful voyage. ... And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn't deceived you. / Wise as you have become, with so much experience, / you must have already understood what Ithaka means.

Dear graduates do not be afraid of sailing against the wind and avoiding the wave of mediocrity that paralyzes the best boats. Today your beautiful journey has started. Enjoy it! And many years from now, when you remember this beautiful moment, wise and full of experience, I hope you find the happiness that comes from being congruent with the values you believe in and live according to your ideas, like today when college ends and a new life begins.

Thank you very much, and congratulations, Class of 2011.