PATH vice president issues a challenge to 2010 graduates
On May 16, 2010, Scott Jackson, PATH’s vice president of External Relations, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Puget Sound, his alma mater. In his commencement address, Jackson talked about the promise of the Millennial Generation to make a significant impact on global poverty and deaths from preventable illness.
Commencement address, University of Puget Sound, May 16, 2010
Thank you, President Thomas and Dr. Mary Thomas, President Emeritus Phil Phibbs, Board Chair Deanna Oppenheimer, members of the Board of Directors, administration, faculty, students, and fellow honorees. Just as you have honored me and my family by having me here today, it is my privilege to honor and encourage you and yours on this graduation day. Let me start by congratulating you, the University of Puget Sound 2010 graduating class. And congratulations to the parents, grandparents, extended family, significant others, friends, and supporters who have helped to make this day possible.
Today is one of the biggest days of your life. Thirty years ago, this was one of the biggest days of my life. I sat in Memorial Fieldhouse wearing my requisite black cap and gown. My mom, stepfather, little brother, and sister were in the audience. My stepfather, the Reverend Jefferson Jackson, had given the baccalaureate presentation before the ceremony. We represented the only interracial family from Sequim, Washington, and I was the only student from Sequim to graduate from UPS that year. Jefferson and my brother, Shawne, have since passed away, but today, my mom, Sydney, and my sister, Jeffie, are still with me, sitting in the audience with my wife, Dana, and our three lovely daughters.
Like you, I worked hard to get to UPS and even harder to earn my degree. On graduation day, I remember feeling a shared sense of anticipation and accomplishment with my fellow graduates. From here, the world was ours. We could do anything. We could go anywhere. It’s that same way for you.
Today, I want to share with you three ideas: how the world has changed, how the world is calling you, and how you are going to change the world.
The world has changed: then and now
Many of the challenges we face in our efforts to confront human suffering and achieve a more humane existence remain the same today as they were in 1980. But consider these differences in the past 30 years between my graduation day and yours:
Then, everyone knew that the world was physically round. Brave explorers centuries before us had sailed the oceans to prove it. Galileo’s and Newton’s laws of science and physics gave further proof that the world was not only round but that it was part of a larger universe. Now, author Thomas Friedman has made a compelling case that the socioeconomic dimensions of the world are actually flat. Friedman tells us that the fall of the Berlin Wall, the demise of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and other political and socioeconomic forces have flattened the world. The creation of the Internet, other technological advances in communications, and breakthroughs in science, health, and education have leveled the playing field and will forever change the way we connect with each other. Globalization is a global reality.
Then, Nelson Mandela, standing on the shoulders of freedom crusaders before him such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., was leading the cause for equality from within a South African prison, still ten years from being released and bringing an end to apartheid. Now, following the bold acts and sacrifices of these leaders and others, bolstered by the power of your voices and votes and convictions, we have witnessed the election of the first African American president of the United States, Barack Obama.
And of course—as I’m sure your professors and your parents love to remind you—then, in 1980, there was no Internet, no YouTube, no Facebook, no Twitter, not even a cell phone as we know it. I called my parents from my dorm on a rotary phone, if you can believe it. Now, my family is constantly telling me I’m on my BlackBerry too much. Sound familiar? When I graduated from UPS, places like Darfur and Haiti were not on our radar screen. The HIV/AIDS pandemic was nonexistent. 9/11 was yet to define our new reality. Now, we are connected to the rest of the world and its human suffering on a real-time basis. Our economic and financial challenges are more and more intertwined. Our growing world population is confronted with shrinking resources, the consequences of global warming, and increasing shortages of energy, water, and food. The world is very different and yet very much the same.
The UPS educational distinctive
You and I are fortunate that one thing hasn’t changed: the value of the UPS education. UPS has its own educational distinctive and global perspective. On this campus, in these classrooms, innovation and conviction to humanity come together, giving us a true sense of community. UPS continues to embrace the values of race relations, gender rights, cultural diversity, and global service.
President Thomas has called the value of our education “priceless,” and I fully agree. We are indeed privileged to have shared an educational experience that will last a lifetime. Class of 2010, you have a vital perspective and an important role to play in the world.
The world is calling you: the Millennial Generation
As members of the 2010 graduating class, your UPS education will serve you in more far-reaching ways than any class before you. You are unique in how you think about the world and, as a consequence, what you can contribute as global citizens. As members of the Millennial Generation, your moment in history is unparalleled.
A recent study from the Pew Research Center found these telling facts about the Millennial Generation:
- Your generation has high morals. You want to help others but you don’t seek personal credit. Fifty-two percent of respondents said that being a good parent is paramount, and 30 percent said a successful marriage is important. While 21 percent desire to help others, only 1 percent seeks fame.
- Your generation is well connected 24/7. In fact, 25 percent of you sleep with your cell phone next to your bed.
- Your generation is inquisitive and willing to learn. Forty percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 are attending college—the most of any generation in US history.
The Millennial Generation is more ethnically and socially diverse than ever before. You are more open to new ideas and ways of living. Even as we emerge from a great recession, you are upbeat about your financial future as well as the future of this country and the rest of the world.
As Millennials, you are the world’s first global generation. You are not bound by race, culture, language, or geography. You are confident, connected to the world, and open to change.
You are going to change the world: global citizens
Your education at UPS is the starting point on your journey to becoming global citizens.
One of the most pressing challenges of our time is global poverty. With more than 2 billion people living on less than $2 per day, the disparity between the haves and the have-nots throughout the world continues to widen. Unless we seriously address this income disparity, it will increasingly impact the global economy, threaten worldwide security, and, perhaps, challenge our very existence.
Interlinked with poverty is the equally pressing problem of human suffering from preventable diseases. Nearly nine million children die each year from preventable causes, including one million who die from diarrhea alone. Three million new people are infected with HIV each year. One million people, mostly young children, die from malaria, despite new technological advances. And one out of every three women in the developing world is undernourished, the effects of which are passed on to their children.
Bono, the lead singer for U2 and a founder of the ONE Campaign to make poverty history, described this challenge of inequality when he said: “We can be the generation that no longer accepts that an accident of latitude determines whether a child will live or die.”
Fortunately, the idea of equality is gaining traction. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is a leader in global health and is based in our own backyard, adopted a mission statement that “all lives are of equal value.” PATH, the global health nongovernmental organization that I have the privilege to work for, has a vision of “a world where health is within reach for everyone.”
The good news is that we are making progress. Ten years ago, the United Nations adopted a bold set of goals, called the Millennium Development Goals, that call for ending poverty and hunger, achieving universal education and gender equality, making significant progress on the health of children and mothers, and combating HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Today, with this increased awareness and the inputs from countless other global institutions, increased funding is being committed to improve global health, technological innovations are generating real and viable solutions, and, as a result, fewer children are dying from unnecessary causes.
Since 2000, the number of people dying from malaria, for example, is down 50 percent in several African countries due to increased use of bed nets to ward off infected mosquitoes and vastly improved methods for distributing new and more effective medicines for treatment. There is also great promise for a malaria vaccine in our lifetime.
There are more success stories to be told. But there is also much more progress to be made, and you must be a part of it. The foundation has been laid. The momentum has begun. You are poised to change the world in ways previous generations couldn’t imagine. You have the education, ambition, tools, and talent required. You, the Millennial Generation, can meet the global challenge of eliminating poverty and human suffering from unnecessary causes. As author Fareed Zakaria writes, you have the opportunity for leadership within “a new architecture that extends peace, growth, and freedom for the world.” You, Class of 2010, can help build this architecture.
Conclusion: a call to action
Perhaps the reason I was asked to speak to you today is because of what the University of Puget Sound did for me. As I said earlier, I grew up in Sequim, a small town on the Olympic Peninsula. I was bound and determined to go to UPS, to live and study among these red brick buildings. I worked in a plywood mill for a year to make enough money to attend my first semester. I believed that once I got here, I would figure out a way to stay. And I did. With the help of the UPS faculty and administration, I was able to complete my education as a Logger.
The convictions that I developed here on this campus, coupled with my faith, helped me find my way in the world as a family man, as a businessman, as a nonprofit executive, and as a global citizen seeking to make a difference.
The contributions that you will make are just as important as those that Bono and Bill Gates have made. You can be a kid from Sequim who barely got in to UPS. You can—and will—survive the twists and turns of life. You can contribute in your own way from all walks of life. You can have faith, you can persevere, you can have compassion for others, you can simply do your best and you will not only succeed—you will make a difference in the world.
Today, I leave you with a call to action. You, the class of 2010, the Millennial Generation with a distinctive UPS education, are the generation of global citizens who will and must meet our global challenge. The world has changed. The world is calling you. And you have the opportunity to change the world.
I want to read a few lines of a poem from a card that my mom and dad gave me on my graduation day, which I’ve kept all these years—perhaps so that I could share it with you. The poem is called Desiderata by Max Ehrmann.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Class of 2010: The world needs you. Your journey is important. Go forth as global citizens and make the world yours.