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A turn of the tassel, and off they go

Commencement speakers exhort graduates to live as global citizens and to maintain 'quickness of sympathy.'

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Scan the mastheads of news organizations, the lists of top echelons of business, the hierarchies of power in government, and it still reads pretty much like it did in the middle of the last century, or the century before that. It's like the membership list of the Augusta Golf Club today.

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Why this discrepancy? Why does it hurt more to lose to a girl unless, deep down, you think girls are worth less than boys? This is an old and deep-seated prejudice; you can circle the globe and find its gnarly roots wrapped around the foundations of many societies.

The gentlemen of the graduating class experienced life on campus as members of the minority. At least this may have given you an appreciation for the importance of preserving the rights of the few. Put blinders on those things that conspire to hold you back, especially the ones in your own head, and guard your good mood.

Kofi Annan

Secretary-General, United Nations
Duke University, Durham, N.C.

There are few moments in life so powerfully mixed with hope and fear as this one - this day on which you take wing in the wider world, this day on which you and the world start to test each other a bit more seriously.

Whether you are in Ghana or here in Durham, there is no such thing as thinking only in terms of your own country. Global forces press in from every conceivable direction. We are increasingly connected through travel, trade, the Internet, and even sports.

In such a world, issues that once seemed very far away are very much in your backyard. What happens in South America or Southern Africa - from democratic advances to deforestation to the fight against AIDS - can affect your lives here in North Carolina. And your choices here - what you buy, how you vote - can resound far away.

As someone once said of water pollution, we all live downstream.

The world is at a critical juncture, and so are you. The question typically heard at this time of year - "What are you going to do?" - is a bit more charged than usual.

Make your plans, pursue your chosen fields, and don't stop learning. But be open to the detours that lead to new discoveries, for therein lies some of the spice and joy of life. And remember, if this is a world of peril, it is to a far greater degree one of enormous opportunity.

Richard Parsons

Chairman & CEO, AOL Time Warner
University of Hawaii, Manoa

My job is to explain why this commencement is more significant than any other. Fortunately for me, circumstances have already seen to that. Yours was the last class to enter the University of Hawaii in the 20th century and the first to complete its full course of study in the 21st.

The third millennium arrived during your freshman year, and the whole world joined in the celebration. The stock market was roaring. Our economy was on its longest winning streak in history. A chorus of optimists claimed that, as good as things were, they'd only get better. The spread of free markets was inexorable.

What followed wasn't expected or predicted. The dotcom bubble burst. Easy riches evaporated, as easy riches often do. On Sept. 11, 2001, we found ourselves at war, and it arrived in the same manner it did here in Hawaii 60 years before, only this time the targets were office buildings, not battleships.

This isn't the first time - and it won't be the last - that one generation has been confronted with the mess another generation made. We've grown accustomed to hearing the men and women who came through the Depression and World War II referred to as "the greatest generation." But greatness wasn't handed them - enormous problems and challenges were. Fate confronted them with the near collapse of the country's economy and a worldwide assault on democracy. Their greatness lay in their response to those events.

The new millennium, which once seemed - to borrow Matthew Arnold's famous words - "to lie before us like a land of dreams/ so various, so beautiful, so new" - has proved rife with age-old problems. The eventual outcome is passing into your hands.

I'm confident you'll be greater than any generation that's come before - not just wealthier and more successful, but more committed, compassionate, and caring; more determined that liberty and opportunity be available to people everywhere. The time is ripe. Seize the day.

Seamus Heaney