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Spring 2007 Graduate Commencement Address

Dr. Alberto Bustani, President, Campus Monterrey of Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico

May 11, 2007

What should we consider in looking beyond?

Mr. President, members of the faculty, distinguished guests, families and friends. Dear students of the 2007 graduating class.

I am honored to be speaking at Virginia Tech and in joining you in this commencement ceremony in the city of Blacksburg, Virginia, the birth state of Washington and Jefferson. You are about to become the proud alumni of one of the great universities of the United States.

At the Tecnológico de Monterrey we receive students from many countries, but the country with most students at Monterrey Campus is the United States. This speaks of the strong ties we have with universities in the United States and of the increasing connections between our two countries. We highly value our collaborative agreements with universities from all over the world; however, we have special regards for those with Virginia Tech. We not only share common interests, but we also share values and a genuine desire to cooperate. I am proud to work in partnership with Virginia Tech and in the commitment we have made to collaborate in both, academic and extracurricular projects.

For this reason, when I started writing this message, I thought of talking to you about the trends that you might need to consider when planning your career. Perhaps about globalization and its challenges and opportunities, or about the exciting advances in science, the movement towards the knowledge economy and the burst of new technologies that are reshaping the way we work and live. I also considered giving you my opinion and advice about sustainable development and of the challenges of reversing the worldwide process of having planned to live, for the last decades, beyond what appear to be our sustainable resources.

The painful events that took place here a few weeks ago, affecting your lives and that of your university, reaching out beyond to many of us, made me change the ideas and feelings that I would like to share with you today.

I would instead, like to talk to you about some of the values and attitudes that, in my opinion, have been crucial for our harmonious coexistence and social, economic and technological development. Values we should preserve and promote. Attitudes that have fostered creativity, optimism, and motivation to achieve our goals and inspired others to do the same. Values and attitudes that have led us in many instances in the right direction and that have encouraged people to channel their physical or mental energy towards remarkable achievements and to make commitments and trust their ability to succeed.

We are here today, to mark a special occasion, and I would like to take this opportunity to invite you look into the future. For a few minutes empty your mind and concentrate on one thing, concentrate on looking beyond this present moment. Ask yourselves, what should I consider in looking beyond?

Many of today’s educators and philosophers have warned us that in our society, in spite of the great advances of science and technology, and of the virtually unlimited possibilities of communication, there is a greater tendency to individualism and isolation, and the loss of a sense of community and solidarity.

Today in the world, amidst the hardships and incredible challenges that humanity now faces, many people feel hopeless and have a pessimistic and often noxious attitude towards life, showing no care or concern for others, not taking any interest in anything.  The Spanish philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset said, “Life is a series of collisions with the future; it is not the sum of what we have been, but what we yearn to be." 

Lamentably, many people see the future with a feeling of sadness. This undermines their confidence, and makes them feel hopeless. Pessimistic people are often a magnet that attracts other people with the same attitude. We now see this in entire communities that are becoming negative centers of attraction, pulling towards them people with little enthusiasm or zest for the positive and wholesome aspects of life. This negativism threatens the very essence of the human spirit. The safety and predictability of our world is thus in a sense being challenged.

And so we must ask ourselves, "What should we consider in looking beyond?"

Can we ever know all that we would ideally wish to know in order to make the best decisions in life?  Hardly so!  We need to forge ahead with our own limited knowledge or that of others.  But each generation faces new knowledge and new challenges. We must learn to change negative energy to positive efforts and to create communities with a positive attitude.

I am convinced that there is more good than evil in the world. Do not let others corrode your confidence; maintain optimism, focus on positive ideas, take positive action. Be enthusiastic, associate with people who believe in positive thinking and constructive dialogue. Believe in yourself and in your talents, gifts and capacities. In time, your values and attitudes will affect your life and that of others positively. Look beyond the present moment and into to the future.

You have finished your studies in the university and thus a stage in your life has gone by. As the university contributes to the discovery of knowledge, it also gives us the opportunity to discover ourselves. To know one’s self is an important step towards wisdom.

The German philosopher Max Scheler proposes that the first and fundamental medium for transmitting wisdom is through the quality of our relationships. It is accomplished by empathy with others and placing ourselves in the shoes of the other, by seeing from the other’s perspective instead of ignoring or alienating the other. As he said: “The essences of all things intersect in man, and find solidarity in man.”

Do not loose the ability to trust people. People are now less resilient and are losing the ability to recover after an adverse experience. To improve and uphold the law and our institutions maintain your confidence in goodness and in mankind. Without confidence it is hard to build anything robust, and this makes success unlikely. Confidence allows people to accept new ideas; it is the backbone of progress and personal growth. Your challenge is to create communities of trust.

Can you avoid making mistakes? At times yes but not always. Thomas Jefferson said “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

Be tolerant and have an attitude of dialogue towards other people. Learn from the other and learn to respect the other. Dialogue is a reciprocal conversation with other people, necessary for understanding diversity and other cultures. The best results are always achieved by means of dialogue. Dialogue is essential for creativity and innovation. Speak and share your thoughts, encourage, promote and pursue dialogue, and transform dialogue into action. You have to create communities of dialogue and tolerance.

Octavio Paz, Mexican writer, poet, and the winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Literature wrote, “Wisdom lies neither in fixity nor in change, but in the dialectic between the two”. He also said, “Man does not speak because he thinks; he thinks because he speaks. Or rather, speaking is no different than thinking: to speak is to think”.

As you move on in life to pursue your individual paths in your journeys to become global citizens, I wish you the best.  But I also want to inspire your thoughts. For a few minutes clear your mind and ask yourselves: what will it mean for me to become a global citizen? What should I do to succeed in making the world a better place?  Each of you will have different answers depending upon many factors, including where you are from and especially who and what you are. But whatever the answers, they must all have in common the key words: positive attitude, trust, confidence, dialog and tolerance.

As you leave Virginia Tech and continue your journey into life, you will most likely remember this ceremony and what is left behind. You will remember your friends, your professors, your achievements and your special moments. Universities are communities that look beyond, that trust people, centers of dialogue, tolerance and diversity, where people work together, discuss ideas, respect others beliefs. We should strive to attempt to form more communities like these to form a better world. You will also move on and prevail and for this very reason you have the responsibility to create communities of hope.

Thank you very much and congratulations again to each of you on this memorable day.