At Stanford’s 120th commencement, Mexican President Felipe Calderon emphasized in his keynote address the importance of maintaining one’s principles, even when they are challenged. Calderon also stressed the graduates’ responsibility to use their education to find solutions to world problems, drawing upon his own personal and political experiences to illustrate these points.
“Today you leave Stanford with the best tools and the best knowledge,” Calderon said. “To graduate from this University is a huge honor and a great responsibility. It means you have the ability to serve others, to bring positive change this world needs and to do what so many had said was impossible.”
Calderon asked the class of 2011 to question whether they wanted to live their lives with little impact on the world, or whether they wanted to become agents of change. He stated that the key to life is to graduate as a human being, and to become a good citizen of the world. Calderon revealed that one’s ideals are the guideposts for having a global impact.
“Fight for your ideals with all your heart,” Calderon said. “It doesn’t matter how hard it feels. Defend your principles in the face of adversity.”
The president described how fighting for his ideals led to his own rise to power. He revealed he learned this important lesson while growing up in autocratic Mexico. Calderon stated that prior to Mexico’s democratic transition, a single party controlled all political activity. Those who protested the autocratic regime were massacred or merely disappeared. Growing up, Calderon, whose family remained politically active, often expressed his frustration with the system’s injustice to his father.
“He told me, ‘I understand your anger, but we are doing this because it is the right thing to do, because it is our moral duty to our country,’” Calderon said. “The only way to change Mexico peacefully is to appeal to people’s consciences; if we don’t do that, no one will.”
Calderon discussed how his father’s advice remained with him throughout his political career.
“You must never stop defending your ideas,” he emphasized. “Do not hesitate in your efforts because man’s power to create is bigger than man’s power to destroy.”
The President stressed to the class of 2011 to never give up on their principles and to follow their passion. He listed the numerous challenges that face the world today, focusing in particular on poverty and global warming. Calderon cited the Club of Rome’s famous report, titled “Mankind at the Turning Point,” which said that the gaps between man and nature, and rich and poor, needed to be narrowed. Calderon stated that forty years after its publication, these two gaps remain.
“One big mistake is [the idea] that we must choose between fostering economic growth and preserving nature,” Calderon explained. “It is possible to fight poverty and climate change simultaneously, and these false dilemmas must be debunked with the truth of science.”
Calderon emphasized the need to develop pragmatic solutions that design a path for low-carbon economic growth. He stated that Stanford, with its talent and modern technology, has the tools to solve the world’s most pressing problems. Calderon revealed that the success of his Pro–Árbol Program, which uses taxpayer money to reforest woodlands, demonstrates that it is possible to alleviate poverty while preventing deforestation.
Calderon concluded his speech by highlighting the importance of being happy.
“Enjoy life, seek happiness actively — that is the essence of being alive,” Calderon said. “Find the meaning for your existence, think of the goal you want to reach, but above all enjoy the beautiful journey.”
Calderon ended by quoting Constantine Cavafy’s famous poem, “Ithaca,” in order to illustrate the beginning of class of 2011’s life journey.
“Don’t be afraid of sailing against the wind and avoiding the wave of mediocrity,” Calderon said. “Today your beautiful journey has begun. Enjoy it.”