Madeleine Albright praises Elon values in Convocation for Honors
Education is not the answer to every problem, but “it will help us all to learn more about those with whom we share life on this fragile globe,” a sentiment explored in depth March 31 by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, the keynote speaker at Elon University’s Spring Convocation for Honors.
Albright’s remarks focused on three themes: the role of education in a changing world, the importance of international learning, and connecting “what we know to what we do, so that the next generation will be able to clean up the mess that my generation is leaving behind.”
“We often tend to think of education as the remedy for every challenge, but the fact is that education, too, can be a mixed blessing,” she said. “Here at Elon, students are taught to have respect for human differences, and to abide by an ethic of work and service. But if we look around our planet today, we can see that in some regions, education is more akin to brainwashing.
“Many young people are taught to see the modern world as hostile to their values and dangerous to their faith. They are told to place little value on earthly life, and to equate murder with martyrdom. In other places, the young are asked to nurture ancient grievances, to believe that honor can only be won by re-fighting old battles, and that the globe is divided between ‘us’ and ‘them.’”
Albright recounted a trip to a school in Washington, D.C., where she asked first graders if they had ever been to a foreign nation. One said his parents moved to the United States from Russia; another said Korea; one named Ethiopia as her home country.
A set of twins, she said, proudly proclaimed they were from the foreign country of “Pennsylvania.” That creates another question to be addressed.
“Does it matter if they proceed through grade school, high school and college without learning a foreign language, without studying other cultures, without traveling overseas, and without having a clue about how people around the world think?” she said. “The answer, of course is that it matters a great deal – both to them and to us.
“Elon University has recognized this through the faculty it has recruited, the foreign students it has welcomed, and the encouragement it gives to study abroad. The university knows that graduates will be in a far better position to compete in the global economy if they are comfortable in an international setting.”
Albright also praised President Barack Obama for helping to restore some of the credibility lost in recent years by citizens of other nations. She said that Obama is reminding the world that in a democracy, the kind of government a people elects is a reflection of the type of people they are.
“The United States has to do a better job of explaining itself to the world and also of learning from it,” Albright said. “If not, our actions will continue to be misunderstood and our leaders will continue to be surprised by the attitudes of people overseas.”
Albright has devoted her life to national security and foreign policy. As the first woman U.S. Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001, Albright reinforced America's alliances, advocated democracy and human rights, and promoted U.S. trade and business, labor, and environmental standards abroad.
She served as U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 1993 to 1997. While at this post, she led the U.S. delegation to the United Nation's Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995.
Spring Convocation for Honors serves as an annual event to recognize Dean’s List and President’s List students, the faculty, graduate students, the upcoming graduating class and members of the Elon Society, the premier annual giving group at Elon.
On Tuesday, it also served as an opportunity to recognize two of Elon’s most faithful stewards in recent decades: Noel Allen ’69, a member of the board of trustees, and George Troxler, a longtime professor of history who is stepping down at the end of the year as dean of cultural and special programs.
Elon University President Leo M. Lambert conferred an honorary doctor of humane letters to Allen for his tireless work in the 40 years since his graduation. Allen chaired the three strategic planning committees that for two decades guided Elon’s unprecedented growth, and he chaired the 1998 presidential search committee that brought Lambert to the university.
Allen also served as chair of the board of trustees from 2001 to 2003 as Elon assumed university status and conducted a law school feasibility study. His innovative ideas on legal training are embedded in the Elon University School of Law’s mission to engage students and prepare lawyer-leaders for the twenty-first century.
During his acceptance, Allen thanked his family, his colleagues and the people of Elon for their support. He paid a special tribute to his wife, Sandy, another university alum: “She’s still the greatest gift from Elon that I have ever received,” he said.
Troxler, who has normally been a “behind the scenes” presence at Convocation, was invited to sit on the platform in recognition of his 23 years guiding the Office of Cultural and Special Programs. Troxler has been involved in the details of major events on campus since then, from Convocations to Commencements and everything in between.
Lambert praised Troxler for the thousands of life-enriching experiences he helped bring to Elon, calling his life and career “living testaments” to the university’s mission.