The Honorable Portia Simpson Miller, prime minister of Jamaica, was the featured speaker at the 179th Commencement ceremony May 24. Her speech is below.
“Balancing the Books While Balancing People’s Lives”
It is my pleasure to be here with you today in the historic and lovely town of Easton. I am proud to be at an institution named in honor of the ideals of the Marquis de Lafayette.
Graduates, today is your day! Accept my sincere congratulations on the attainment of this important milestone. Now is the time to celebrate your successes. Quite understandably, some of you might not be in the frame of mind for any more challenges today. However, I offer you one more challenge before you leave this campus with your degree in hand. As you confidently embark upon this next phase of your lives, armed with your knowledge, and skills; think about the principles that will anchor and guide your lives into the future.
Graduates, I ask you to consider: What difference will you make in addressing the challenges facing our world today?
Whilst there are obviously many challenges to be addressed, I am convinced that the greatest of these is how we can work together to achieve sustainable poverty reduction and shared economic prosperity, locally and globally.
Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a similar gathering at the University of Michigan.
He asked the students to consider, what would be their contribution in using the wealth of the United States to build a “Great Society.”
President Johnson said:
“The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life and to advance the quality of our American civilization.”
Half a century later, progress has been made in many respects, although, undoubtedly, many challenges remain. However we define it, “progress” is only achieved when our imagination, our initiative and—our indignation—serve the collective needs of humanity. This is your moment in time to be good stewards of our shared global space. We must use our social and global consciousness and professional skills to provide quality answers to the questions that our society and our world present. As students of this generation, you must take into account the passage of the last half century and the inevitable changes in our common challenges.
Wisdom comes with hindsight. President Johnson’s speech to that graduating class is therefore worthy of serious reflection. This moment demands that we be good stewards of our shared global space.
In my life, which includes more than 40 years in democratic representational politics, now serving as Prime Minister of Jamaica for the second time, I have settled on a commitment to the philosophy of “balancing the books while balancing people’s lives.”
This is my conviction, and as Lafayette said in his 1783 letter to George Washington, “If it be a wild scheme, I had rather be mad that way, than be thought wise on the other tack.”
The most significant governance lesson that I have garnered over my many years of public service, is that no country can progress and prosper without a proper balance between its economic growth of and the social advancement of its people.
I am committed to the governance principle of “balancing the books while balancing people’s lives.” This understanding has been overlooked in many developed economies around the world…but no more! In 2010, what was called the “Great Recession” had devastated many national economies. Jamaica was not spared. The economy of the United States was also widely affected. Worsening income inequality and disparity was a catalytic factor in the recession, and continues to persist, within countries and between countries. It continues to threaten and undermine democracy, the rule of law, human security, as well as social and economic stability on both national and global levels.
I decided to share this with you for two reasons.
Firstly, some of you will become national and global leaders and you need to be aware of these dynamics to determine your path.
Secondly, in researching Lafayette College, I quickly realized how aligned the values of your educational experience are with my philosophy, values, and mission.
According to my research, students at Lafayette are, in the words of your Professor David Stifel, “exposed to different disciplines across different cultures and different systems and educated into being critical thinkers.”
You have enjoyed varied experiences, including:
I am sure that these experiences will have helped you to mold important perspectives about your roles and professional directions.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Lafayette’s future is bright with the historic appointment of Professor Alison Byerly as president. Her leadership in the role of technology in higher education, and its relationship with interdisciplinary and global studies, can only advance the growth and development of this great institution. Under President Byerly’s leadership, Lafayette College will be guided by a bold vision of the important role of higher education in solving global problems.
If I interpreted correctly the citation that was read, I now have the right to the privileges of this Community. I am proud to embrace my membership in the Lafayette Family. I am delighted to be a part of a progressive institution that understands local and global responsibility.
I also commend and thank Lafayette College for establishing the Lafayette-Jamaica Scholarship program that will allow more Jamaican students to enjoy the benefits of this noble institution.
I look forward to the strengthening of the relationship between Jamaica and Lafayette College.
My challenge to you as you embark on your new lives, is that you create a modern paradigm that responds effectively to the new challenges in the global village.
As I share in your celebration, I encourage you to join global efforts to make this world more progressive, just, equitable, and positive.
I leave with you the words of Mahatma Ghandi, who believed that men and women have the power to change the world. He said:
Go now and made a difference in our world.
I leave you with the words of the great Jamaican musician, Bob Marley, “One love, one heart.”
Congratulations on your fine achievement of graduation today. Please accept my best wishes for your future.