U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Carlos M. Gutierrez, Delivers the 2008 Undergraduate Commencement Address

May 19, 2008

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez
Commencement Address to the Georgetown University
McDonough School of Business 2008 Undergraduate Class
Washington, D.C.
May 17, 2008

Congratulations, graduates. Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in your life. I'm honored to be here with you.

I will try to follow the sage advice a university president once gave a commencement speaker. He said, "Think of yourself as the body at an Irish wake. They need you in order to have the party, but no one expects you to say very much."

With that in mind, I'll keep it brief. Today I want to talk about the global business community in which you are now entering, the need for countries to embrace openness, and challenge you to become international citizens and leaders.

You are graduating at an exciting time of rapid change. The world in which you were born into, and the one in which you will now enter as professionals are vastly different.

In a single generation the people and the products that make up the world's economy have been transformed. Russia, China and India have all come online, bringing billions of competitors and consumers into market-based economies.

The technological revolution has changed how we view and interact with the world. Think about these statistics:

  • More than 240 million Indians have cell phones.
  • More than 221 million people worldwide have broadband access.
  • There are now 9.8 million landline and cellular phone subscribers in Iraq.
  • The proliferation of technology has not only changed the economy, but has helped shrink international boundaries and bring people closer together-and these technologies are still rapidly evolving.

The United States has been a primary force pushing this change, broadening the base of globalization. We've also been one of its greatest beneficiaries.

By breaking down barriers to trade and advocating for the spread of the rule of law, transparency and good governance in our partner countries, we have stayed ahead of the international economy. But our continued leadership in the 21st Century demands that we remain open.

This is one of the greatest challenges confronting your generation.

Even though we now face tough headwinds, our economy has come through tremendous challenges before, and I'm confident it will again. What you do and the decisions you make as leaders in the decades to come, will determine our future economic growth and global leadership.

Last week I co-authored an editorial in the Wall Street Journal with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. We wrote, "As two immigrants, we're proud of America and the strength it derives from being uniquely open to trade, to investment, and to ideas and people...It's clear that what's needed is more openness here and abroad, not less."

During times of great change, people often react by throwing up walls and barriers that allow them to retreat into themselves. Some are now advocating the same for nations-calling for a more isolationist approach to economies, foreign policy and culture.

That mistake would be devastating for any person, any business and any nation-but particularly for the United States.

America is the greatest country in the world. Immigrants have come to our shores for centuries in search of a new life, new opportunities and a chance at achieving what might be impossible in their own country.

Governor Schwarzenegger and I were not born in this country. But America gave us a chance.

Since our founding, immigration has been America's competitive advantage-we must not let that advantage fade in the 21st century. Successful economies welcome newcomers for their ability to contribute, for their hard work and for their ideas.

As tomorrow's business leaders, you have a responsibility to encourage further openness and engagement. We must discourage protectionism wherever it creeps in, oppose isolationism in favor of engagement, and decry xenophobia in favor of openness and freedom.

Our country's past was built on being a welcoming, open society. Our future depends on more of the same.

The education you've received here at Georgetown will open many doors for you. As I look out across this audience, I see a snapshot of the global community, with more than 21 countries represented in this graduating class.

My challenge to you is to continue your education, in and out of the classroom, to keep on your paths as international citizens, always remaining aware and open to different cultures, different people and the different ways in which we can help one another.

But the global engagement I am advocating is not just economic engagement-it is political engagement as well. If we were to only look inward and stay isolated from the world, it would be all too easy to ignore the travesties of human rights that occur far too often. As global citizens we have a responsibility to call attention to injustice.

There is international outrage over crises in Burma, North Korea and Darfur. I ask the international community to shine the same spotlight on Cuba-a country just 90 miles off America's shores that is one of the world's great violators of human rights. I co-chair the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba with Secretary Rice, and Cuba is a high priority for this Administration.

Many of you actively campaign for human rights around the world. Your generation is more attuned to the need for social justice than perhaps any other. Please join me in calling for social justice for Cubans.

Next Wednesday, May 21st, is Cuba Solidarity Day. On that day we will highlight the plight of political prisoners in Cuba, and call for freedom for those who have, for 50 nearly years, been ruled by a brutal Cuban dictator.

As you leave Georgetown and immerse yourself in the world of business, let me encourage you to make time for public service. After 30 years of a rewarding career in corporate America, without a doubt that the last three years in public service have been the highlight of my professional life.

Serve your country, serve your community, work at an NGO, run for office. No matter which avenue you choose, make time in your lives and in your careers to give back. Great leaders believe in doing good for those they serve.

In closing, let me leave with you a few universal principles of leadership I have observed. Your education at this world-class university will propel you to leadership positions wherever your careers might take you-these principles will serve you well:

  • First, is the importance of choosing good people with whom to work.
  • Second is the will to lead. Great leaders enjoy the challenge, the demands and the pressure of leadership.
  • Third, is the willingness to make difficult decisions-great leaders confront problems when they see them.
  • Fourth, is the importance of believing in something greater than one's self.
  • The fifth quality of a good leader is someone who knows what they do well and what others do better; and
  • Final principle I have learned by watching and working with great leaders is that the best leaders stay humble. Those who accomplish the most boast the least.

To the Class of 2008, I wish you well. I call on you to be great leaders, to be international citizens, to encourage openness and engagement, to cry out against injustice wherever you find it and to find a set of principles that will guide you as you transform the world.

From this moment on, your paths will diverge around the globe. Make the most of your education, your skills and your opportunities, and remember that to whom much is given, much is required. Congratulations.