President Horner, members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished faculty, graduates, family and friends – it is a privilege to be here, on this beautiful campus and to be back in your beautiful country.
Thank you for your kind invitation and for this honor.When I was here in Athens two years ago, the Greek economy was truly struggling and teetering on brink of disaster.
The future looked bleak – and there was even a chance your country would leave the EU.
While there is still no doubt a long road ahead and many difficult decisions to be made, I am hopeful, that with collaboration and cooperation—within Greece and beyond its borders—a program can be developed to set Greece on a path of strong growth while gradually restoring debt sustainability.
So let me congratulate all of you and your families – for the important work you have all done to band together and for this special day you celebrate together.
In many ways I am reminded of my hometown, Lowell, Massachusetts, where the immigrant experience—and the social and economic contributions of the Greek community—have always been central.
For generations Lowell has called itself home to immigrants seeking opportunity for their families …
Governor Michael Dukakis and Senator Paul Tsongas, the first two Greek Americans who ran for President …
Businessman and owner of the Washington Wizards basketball team, Ted Leonsis …
Arthur T. Demoulas – an iconic businessman who leads Market Basket, one of the largest and most respected grocery chains and employers in the northeast United States …
I think of the work that Greek American, George Sakellaris, has done to improve the energy efficiency in Lowell’s city buildings and schools.
George is a native of Sparta who left Greece to attend the college in the states.
He went on to found and today continues to lead Ameresco, the largest energy efficiency and renewable energy company in North America that is revolutionizing the energy industry.
Sons of drycleaners, grocers and restaurateurs who succeeded through perseverance, integrity and strong family ties.
These are stellar examples of true leadership and the ultimate immigrant dream, backed with hard work and determination.
But the strength of Lowell’s Greek immigrant community isn’t the only reason I feel connected to all of you.
You see, the immigrant experience is central to my own story as well.
My grandparents came to the United States from Ireland.
They were among the first wave of immigrants in Lowell, settling into a section of town called “The Acre,” which was also known as “Greektown.”
My grandmother worked in a mill in Lowell’s then-vibrant textile industry.
My grandfather actually drove a horse and buggy for the city.
Because of their hard work, the efforts of my parents and the opportunity our public university system provided, like many of you today, I was the first in my family to graduate from college – from UMass Lowell.
I earned the privilege to represent my hometown in the United States Congress for fourteen years and now have the great honor of being the first undergraduate alumnus to serve as president of the 73,000-student University of Massachusetts system.
Like your country today, Lowell has seen its share of tough times over the years as industries have moved away and economic trends have shifted.
But in the face of this adversity, our city has found strength and resilience in the diverse cultures that continue to call it home – the Cambodian families who came in the wake of conflict in Southeast Asia and the vibrant Puerto Rican community there today as well as our Greek and Irish communities, which continue to play a vital role.
Indeed, today if you walk into some of our city’s oldest Eastern Orthodox churches, you will find families sitting in the pews not simply of Greek heritage but from Bulgaria, Russia, Romania and Africa.
The same is true of the Irish Catholic churches I attended as a boy.
President Horner, that inclusive spirit is at the root of our partnership today.Today, more of our students than ever before participate in international education as a result of partnerships such as these – totaling nearly 400 partnerships in over 60 countries across the globe.
This open exchange of faculty, students and research between our schools and others is essential to a world-class education in the 21st century – skills I hope you will use to build a 21st century economy here in Greece.
An economy that embraces innovation and entrepreneurship and invests in and develops renewable energy.
If you do, I can assure you the United States will help.
Greek Americans on both our East and West Coasts will invest money and resources – providing internships and partnerships that will help Greece achieve the sustained job-producing period of economic growth it needs.
If there is one thing I learned growing up in Lowell, it is that Greek Americans will always help Greece. But building a leading edge economy here in Greece is not the only thing partnerships like ours have prepared you for.
Here at the American College of Greece, you’ve been fortunate to receive a range of diverse experiences and meet people with different backgrounds.
That has prepared you for not only the 21st century global economy … but also the critical thinking and resilience required in an uncertain, changing world.It won’t surprise you to learn that President Obama spoke quite powerfully on the subject of diversity in our discourse recently, urging graduates at Howard University to never retreat from what he called the “battlefield of ideas.”
Instead of shutting out speakers or guests with opposing viewpoints or experiences, he urged them to listen, engage and learn from those with whom they disagreed.
I have a similar request of you today:
When you take off that cap and gown, work hard to help your country embrace innovation …
And as you do, commit to innovative thinking in your own lives.Here’s what I mean: the world today makes it so easy for us to connect with those with whom we have a shared interest – even those a half a world away.
That’s a great thing – and something we didn’t have when I was a young man.
But at a time when our world faces so many challenges, it’s not enough to find those with whom we agree.
I know engaging those with whom we may not agree is not easy.
Sometimes it makes us uncomfortable or angry.
And sometimes it threatens how we think of ourselves or our world.
But that’s a good thing – because it challenges us, enriches us … and prevents us from giving in to stagnation. Now more than ever, we need you to embrace innovation, diversity and new thinking.
Seek it out … in the careers you choose … and the relationships you forge … in person and online … at work.
Don’t be afraid to step onto that battlefield of ideas.
As you set goals for yourself and think about what you want to accomplish, be true to who you are.
But always be an active listener. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn when you listen.
Your lives will be richer.
And our world will be so much stronger for it.
So, thank you again for this tremendous honor.
I wish you good health, happiness and great success.