Ambassador Speaks at University of Florida Doctoral Graduation
University of Florida, Gainesville, April 26, 2013
Dear President Machen, Dear Trustees and Deans, Dear Professors and, most of all, dear Class of 2013!
It is a great honor and pleasure for our Consul General in Miami Gaël de Maisonneuve, for my staff and for me to join you today. Thank you so much, President Machen and Provost Glover, for having invited me to the 2013 doctoral degree graduation. Today’s ceremony is a once-in-a-lifetime event for all of you, and it is a great privilege for me to be sharing this very special day with you. It is actually a once-in–a-lifetime event for me as well.
“Commencement”: the word says it all; today you have accomplished something remarkable, completing a long and sometimes arduous course of study to finish your Doctorate. But you are, more than anything else, embarking on something new, commencing. What a beautiful name for a day: a day of beginnings, a day for hope, a day when you stand on the threshold of all possibilities. You are the world and the world is yours.
Dear Class of 2013, congratulations! In a world of intense international competition, having a doctoral degree from such a top research university as the University of Florida, a world-class university, is a great asset.
You have chosen, through study and research, to serve the cause of education, the humanities or medical care: in short, the cause of all. I admire you for your commitment to your studies, a commitment that has led you here, and also for your generous vision of a future dedicated to bettering society.
The greatest benefit of your hard work is one you carry within yourselves: your knowledge and culture. You have made the best possible investment, one that will always yield increasing dividends. As Benjamin Franklin, one of your greatest scientists and diplomats put it – and I quote: “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
Keep in mind that with your strong educational background, you are going to be the ones that others look to for guidance and advice. As such, and through your professional activities, you will have to shoulder great responsibilities through the choices you will make, and in the orientations you provide.
So I would like to take this opportunity to share a few thoughts with you about our fast-changing world.
As the French Ambassador to the United States since 2011 and a long-time friend of this country, I have seen the exponential development of digital technologies, social media and all communication tools in general. In the U.S. and in France, too, as innovation is France’s number 1, number 2 and number 3 priority. And I strongly believe that today, more than ever, a few professional, determined and creative people can truly change the world – whether they be business leaders, politicians, scientists, artists or something else – even diplomats!
That may seem counter-intuitive in our highly complex societies, where it seems that everything has already been tried. But I am convinced that new information technology gives individuals a new voice, especially when they are – like you are – global citizens.
What is true for our societies is also increasingly true for international relations. One of the founding fathers of the European Union, Frenchman Jean Monnet, used to say – and I quote : “We are not uniting states, we are uniting people”.
Today, it almost does not even matter if your business partner is in France while you work in Gainesville: meetings can be held at a distance, files can be virtually exchanged and constant interaction can easily take place on a daily basis. This is a wonderful opportunity for world economies to become more cooperative, the circulation of knowledge and the enrichment of ideas through communication.
We know that the classroom experience is currently facing a major shift because of the amazing possibilities offered by online courses. Even surgical operations can take place remotely.
The professions that you practice will be radically changed by all these opportunities, though none of us can exactly predict to what extent. Perhaps some of you will be digital therapists, digital teachers or remote philosophers, who knows?
In this respect, let’s never forget a very simple thing: however connected you are with the entire world – which is wonderful, of course – you will always be supported by your community, the friends who surround you and the place where you live.
To connect, yes, this is the key to tomorrow’s world, to more knowledge, to more understanding, to more peace, to more prosperity.
But a strong “connector” is someone who is also anchored in a community. As an Ambassador, I serve France, my country, but I also draw my strength from you, from the United States, the country I serve in. The French Embassy connects with you. It connects with this university. It connects with the “Gator Nation.” I connect with the Gators!
Sometimes, when I am in a restaurant or in a park, I see family members sitting together, each one of them texting someone else on their phones. Unless they are texting each other because they have forgotten how to speak to each other, which is unfortunately possible….
To me, this is the image of the world we do not want, where communication technologies make us take the closest relationships for granted, and make us neglect them.
It is only by building on a local scale that we can strengthen our impact globally. That’s one of the reasons why diversity is such a treasure in today’s globalized world. Your studies and research put you in an ideal position to be leaders at both levels – local and global. Seize that opportunity, and put all your energy both in your communities and in reaching out to the world. The two go together.
Dear Class of 2013, you are tomorrow’s global community, you are tomorrow’s global leaders! You can help us enhance the great partnership between our two countries and, more generally, between the United States and Europe.
In this respect, I believe that the more Asia and the emerging world are rising, which is of course a very good thing, the more the transatlantic partnership is crucial and vital for us all as one of the backbones of today’s and tomorrow’s world.
And the good news is that French-American relations have never been closer than they are today. Let me give you two examples:
First, our two countries are each other’s closest allies in the fight against terrorism, as illustrated by France’s military operations in Mali, with a much appreciated American support, to combat Al Qaida there and pave the way for a more democratic and more prosperous country.
Second, it should come as no surprise, based on our shared values, that the United States and France are the two largest contributors to the global efforts against AIDS. And I could give you many other examples.
Against this backdrop, promoting university collaborations between our two countries – and with our other friends around the world – is one of my top priorities as Ambassador.
I am more than glad to see that exchanges between University of Florida and French universities keep on increasing, thanks to reciprocal or even sometimes three-way partnerships and double diplomas, like dual Ph.D degrees, that allow students and ideas to travel the world.
In this respect, the tremendous work accomplished by the French Consulate in Miami and the France Florida Research Institute as well is critical to foster the ever-growing partnership between Florida and France.
Beyond our bilateral cooperation, our two countries are key partners as global players to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.
We, the democracies, are strongest when we can walk on two legs: the values that we share on one side, the interests that we pursue on the other.
And these interests themselves are becoming less and less national and more and more global: how can we reform global governance in order to better integrate the emerging countries? How can we prove the Cassandras in “Clash of Civilizations” wrong and promote dialogue between cultures and religions? How can we combat poverty and climate change more effectively? How can we stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction?
I believe our two countries have special responsibilities in this regard. Let’s never forget that the United States and France owe each other their very existence as free Nations and that from Yorktown and La Fayette to the battlefields of WWI and the beaches of Normandy, our two countries have always stood shoulder to shoulder to defend and promote the values of freedom and democracy and the respect of Human Rights that we together gave the world more than 200 years ago.
These values that we share and that are at the core of our common DNA are today more than ever our best tool, our best moral compass, to confront together the current challenges we face.
Dear Class of 2013, you are the future global citizens. You are the ones who can and will make the world of tomorrow.
Do this with passion, do this with conviction, do this with all the strength that is conferred on you by your knowledge, which is the wish of millions who do not get this opportunity to learn. I would like to share with you a final thought from a French philosopher, Michel de Montaigne – and I quote: “Mon métier et mon art, c’est vivre” – “Living is my trade and my art.” Use your knowledge to work and live with passion, and strive to make every day a work of art. And don’t forget to switch off your phones occasionally to connect with your neighbor instead.
Thank you, Dear President Machen, dear Class of 2013, for giving me the opportunity to share this very special day with you, your family, your friends and your professors./.