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).
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