German Chancellor Angela Merkel Honored by Harvard University at its 2019 Commencement Ceremony
June 7, 2019
This week, German Chancellor attended the 368th commencement ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During the morning exercises, Chancellor Merkel was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the historic American university. In the afternoon, Chancellor Merkel delivered the commencement address for 20,000 graduates, faculty, and guests.
During the ceremony, Harvard President Larry Bacow spoke on the critical role Merkel has played over her decades-long political career saying, “a wall came down and she rose up, leading her nation with strength and savvy and guiding Europe through challenge and change.”
In anticipation of her visit, Harvard Gazette compared her to past speakers Winston Churchill and George Marshall as “a pivotal democratic figure” combatting challenges to multilateral cooperation in world relations.
Harvard Alumni Association President Margaret Wang, who introduced Chancellor Merkel at the afternoon exercises, declared her “one of our most widely respected global leaders.”
Merkel began her speech by describing her personal journey, the circumstances that took her from studying physics in Soviet-controlled East Germany to serving four terms as the chancellor of a united Germany.
“Don’t forget that freedom is never something that can be taken for granted,” she told the audience. “Surprise yourselves with what is possible.”
She recalled the feeling that her chances in life had been limited living in a divided Berlin and how the sudden fall of the Berlin Wall and galvanized calls for freedom across Europe and gave her a new outlook on what is possible.
She used her story to remind students that what appears to be certain and unchangeable today could one day be different, instructing them to “tear down walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness, for nothing has to stay as it is.”
Merkel called on graduates to “take joint action – in the interests of a multilateral global world.” She asked them to focus on working together to achieve important common goals, like fighting ignorance, addressing climate change, and ensuring freedom.
To close her address, Merkel left the graduates with a final message imploring them to do what is moral and remain open to new challenges and solutions.
“Keep asking yourselves: Am I doing something because it is right or simply because it is possible? Remember that openness always involves risks. Letting go of the old is part of a new beginning. And above all: Nothing can be taken for granted, everything is possible.”
Apart from attending commencement exercises, Merkel also spoke with German students, representatives of the Harvard Center for European Studies, and met with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.
This was not the first distinction awarded to Chancellor Merkel by an American institution. President Barack Obama presented Chancellor Merkel with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, and she also received the 2018 J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding. This award continued a tradition of German Chancellors receiving this prestigious honor, following Konrad Adenauer (1955), Helmut Schmidt (1979), and Helmut Kohl (1990).
Shifting Political Culture Threatens Academic Freedom
In recent years, populism, nationalism and new forms of aggressive escalation have been exerting a growing influence on political culture in the West. Fundamental values of liberal democracy such as freedom of expression and tolerance are coming under attack. The consequences of this radicalisation on science in Germany and the USA was the focus of a two-day event held at the Thomas Mann House in Los Angeles.Read More
Dirk Nowitzki Takes the Next Steps in His Career
Since his retirement in April of this year, you may no longer be able to see Dirk Nowitzki on the court in a Dallas Mavericks jersey, but that doesn’t mean he has left the basketball world behind. After 21 seasons in the NBA, the German basketball legend has turned his attention to advocating for players at the international level.Read More
Vice President of the German Bundestag Thomas Oppermann on the US-German Relationship
Thomas Oppermann, Vice President of the German Bundestag, made a visit to Washington, DC to meet with members of US Congress and promote German-American friendship.Read More