Commencement General Assembly at The University of Louisiana
University of Louisiana, Lafayette LA, December 20, 2013.
Class of 2013, Bonjour !
What an honor to stand before you this morning. Today’s ceremony is aonce-in-a-lifetime event, and it’s my immense privilege to share this special moment with you, together with our Consul General Jean-Claude Brunet and our Honorary Consul Christian Goudeau. Thank you Mayor Durel for your warm welcome in this great city and for being here with us today.
I would like to warmly congratulate all the students gathered here – who worked so hard to earn their diplomas .
I would also like to recognize their proud parents, relatives and friends who supported them through the process.
My oldest son is starting college next year, so I’ am about to find out what that’s like. By the way he is completely bilingual and when he hears me speak english either he laughs or he corrects me – most of the time he does both.
Thank you so much, President Savoie, for inviting me to speak at this commencement ceremony and for your wonderful leadership.
Greeting also to the trustees, deans and faculty of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. A worldclass university that we French feel particularly close to.
This has to do first with our shared history. Marquis de Lafayette, whose name your city and university bear, played a critical role as the Commander of the French troops who supported George Washington and the American Revolution, leading to the major victory of Yorktown in 1781.
Conversely, we French will never forget that twice in our history, during the two world wars, millions of Americans of your age risked and often sacrificed their young lives to restore our freedom and the freedom of Europe.
Last month, on Veterans’ Day, I went to New York to bestow the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award, upon 35 American Veterans of World War II; I can tell you this was one of the most moving experiences of my life. There was no dry eye in the room. And on June 6th of next year, we’ll celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings. This will be another very moving tribute.
So let us never forget that the United States and France owe each other their very existence as free Nations and that from Yorktown to the trenches of World War I 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.
It should come as no surprise that it was a great American Lady and a great Frenchman, Eleanor Roosevelt and René Cassin, who together wrote the Universal declaration of Human Rights in the aftermath of World War II.
Remember that in today’s testing times, the values that we share, and that lie at the heart of our common DNA, are more than ever our best guide, our best moral compass, to confront together the challenges we face.
Based on these shared values, the Unites States and France are each other’s closest allies in the fight against terrorism, as illustrated by France’s military operation in Mali, with much appreciated American support, to combat Al-Qaida in Africa.
Based on the same values, the United States and France are at the forefront of international efforts to meet challenges that are becoming less and less national and more and more global: how can we reform global governance to better integrate emerging economies? How can we prove the prophets of a “Clash of Civilizations” wrong and promote dialogue between cultures and religions? How can we better fight poverty and climate change? How do we stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction?
Here again the United States and France are leading international efforts to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state, and our two countries are the largest contributors worldwide to fight AIDS.
Another reason why we French feel so close to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is that we share the same heritage and we are members of the same family of francophone living cultures.
Indeed this university is an important contributor to this legacy, with its programs and research on Louisiana’s culture, arts and heritage, including the Cajun and Creole cultures.
I am therefore especially honored to receive an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, from its Francophone Studies program.
It’s additionally meaningful for me to receive this degree today here in the heart of Acadiana – southern Louisiana – because as France’s former Ambassador to Canada, I made several visits to l’Acadie, the region in eastern Canada that was the home of your French-speaking forebears before they settled here. Those visits were always significant to me, and receiving this Honorary Doctorate here today in Acadania brings the experience full circle. So this degree will always hold a special place in my heart, as will the memory of being here with you.
Members of the Class of 2013, you are tomorrow’s global community; you are tomorrow’s global leaders! You can help us enhance the deep partnership between the United States and Europe more generally, and between the United States and the francophone world.
This French-speaking global community comprises more than 200 million people on five continents. In less than 40 years, not very long from now, the francophone world will number almost one billion, due in particular to growth in Africa.
To prepare its young citizens to engage with this community, the state of Louisiana has made tremendous strides in French-language learning. A notable example is its French-language immersion schools, where several thousand students learn the majority of their subjects in French.
The schools are the product of a francophone cultural renaissance that started in 1968 when attorney and former State Representative and U.S. Congressman James Domengeaux created the council for the Development of French in Louisiana, or CODOFIL, a state agency that fosters Louisiana’s francophone heritage. The immersion schools are a remarkable success, and we applaud Louisiana and CODOFIL for this accomplishment.
I am proud to say that, by participating in teacher exchanges, France has been CODOFIL’s partner in this endeavor for more than four decades now.
Speaking more than one language is enriching on a personal level, opening new worlds and providing opportunities for experiences that would otherwise be impossible.
It is also a major professional asset. Bilingualism is a key to success in a globalized economy and a passport to the world.
You the students of UL Lafayette, will become the newest heirs of Acadiana’s and Louisiana’s francophone cultural legacy, and those to help carry that legacy into the future.
Promoting university collaboration between our countries – and with our other friends around the world – is one of my top priorities as Ambassador.
Every day, we at the Embassy conclude or help conclude an agreement between a French and an American University on exchanges of students, co-diplomas, scientific partnerships and collaborations between the incubators of these universities.
So I’m thrilled that exchanges between the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and French universities are growing stronger every year.
And I believe the University of Louisiana at Lafayette can be more and more a leader and a model for exchanges and cooperation with France and the francophone world.
I was delighted to attend a fundraising event yesterday for a new scholarship program for University of Louisiana at Lafayette students to study in France. I wholeheartedly encourage those who are interested to take advantage of this program, called “Ambassadeur de France”.
The French Consulate in New Orleans and Lafayette’s own Le Centre International, headed by Philippe Gustin, play an important role in fostering university partnerships between Acadiana and France. These institutions also facilitate business connections and innovative cultural partnerships.
“Commencement”: the word says it all – beginning. What a beautiful name for a day: a day of new beginnings, a day for hope, a day when you stand on the threshold of possibility. You are the world, the world is yours.
You have chosen, through study and research, to serve the cause of science, engineering, humanities, medicine: in short, the cause of knowledge.
Always remember that, with your strong educational background, you are the ones whom others will look to for guidance and advice, professionally and in other aspects of life.
I strongly believe that today, more than ever, a few knowledgeable, determined, and creative people can truly change the world – whether they be business leaders, scientists, policymakers, artists… or even diplomats!
That may seem like a tall order in our complex societies. But I am convinced that new information technology gives individuals an unprecedented voice, especially when they, like you, are global citizens.
I understand that your university is one of the top research institutions for computer science, information technology and big data, in close partnership with the National Science Foundation, so I have no doubt that you graduates will be well equipped to take advantage of all these new technologies.
The professions you will work in will be radically changed by these opportunities, though none of us can predict to what extent. Perhaps some of you will be digital therapists, digital teachers…or – who knows – remote philosophers?
Even so, remember one thing: no matter how connected you are with the entire world, and no matter how much you gain from that connection, you will do your best when you are supported by your community, your family, your friends, and the other people who surround you every day. Because, yes, connecting 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 “Ragin’ Cajuns” and their spirit!
Sometimes, when I’m in a restaurant or a park, I see family members sitting together. They are in physical proximity to one another, but each one is texting someone else on their phones. Unless they’re texting each other because they’ve forgotten how to talk to each other, which is unfortunately possible!
To me, this represents the world we do not want, where communication technology creates walls between us and our loved ones, making us take our closest relationships for granted, and ultimately neglect them.
It is only by building on a local scale that we can strengthen our impact globally. That’s one reason diversity is such a treasure in today’s globalized world. And it is one of your strengths. Your academic accomplishments put you in an ideal position to be leaders at both levels – local and global. Seize that opportunity, and put all your energy both into your community and into reaching out to the world. The two go together.
Members of the class of 2013, you are the future global citizens. You are the ones who can and will make the world of tomorrow. Do it with passion, do it with conviction, and with all the strength conferred on you by your learning. Strive to make every day a work of art avec “joie de vivre”. And don’t forget to put down your phone occasionally, so that in addition to connecting with the person at the other end of the transmission, you connect with the person standing next to you too!
My warmest thanks again to all of you, and
Vive les Etats-Unis!
Vive la France!
Vive la Louisiane!
And vive University of Louisiana at Lafayette !