Jane Menken | December 20, 2002
It is a special honor and a great privilege to be here with you today.
I’m relatively new to Colorado, having arrived only five years ago, escaping hot and muggy summers and cold and dreary winters of the East. The first year, as I walked across this beautiful campus, I frequently crossed paths with another faculty member, also a transplant — from the frozen north of Wisconsin. We developed a routine — as we approached one another, I’d look up and point to the beautiful blue sky. He would always shrug and say “Just another day in Paradise”. I want to welcome all of you to Paradise.
To our graduates: I congratulate you for the hard work and, I hope, good times that brought you to this day, and offer you my very best wishes as you move into the wider world.
But no one of us could graduate from college or obtain an advanced degree without the support of our parents, family, spouses, partners, friends, children.
To all of you who have been part of our graduates’ support system, you have our deepest appreciation. I hope reaching this day brings you great pleasure and a great feeling of connection with your graduate.
Graduates, look around and find your family and friends. Please stand and give them a cheer of thanks and appreciation!
I am struck, as I look around, by the interconnectedness that joins us together. And that brings me to my theme for today — our interconnectedness — and the responsibility that that entails.
These two themes – interconnectedness and responsibility – have, for several decades, been part of my life and work in the developing world, in Bangladesh, in Kenya, and in South Africa. That’s a world very far from Paradise. For many, it is a world characterized by poverty and ill health, by insecurity, and by the struggle to raise children and care for family in circumstances that are difficult to imagine as we go about our daily lives here. The family is the only source of assistance, without backup from pensions, health insurance, unemployment benefits. The scourge of AIDS in Africa has reversed all the gains of the past 50 years in length of life. Old people not only have lost the support they expected from their children, but have to care for ill and dying children and assume responsibility for orphaned grandchildren. It has been a sobering experience to see the conditions under which the great majority of people in the world live out their lives.
But there is also hope. I have learned, in traveling and working far from home, that people are very much the same everywhere and very much like us. And when we differ, it is sometimes in ways we can learn from. I have learned that the human spirit everywhere is self-reliant and resilient. Sometimes we forget about this and see only the differences between us and the rest of the world.
This sense of connectedness with humanity and the feeling of responsibility is what sustains my work on health and population issues.
I am not alone. Colleagues within those countries and around the world – we all have sought to understand how conditions can be improved and to translate that understanding into effective policies and programs. There have been many successes. Family planning programs that are not coercive now help people have the number of children they want. These programs save women’s lives by reducing their chances of dying from childbearing under circumstances dangerous to their health. They save children’s lives, since motherless children are at much greater risk of dying. Even AIDS is being confronted with some success. Uganda, for example, has been able to reduce HIV/AIDS prevalence through its frank approach to a public health problem. Much more has been done, and even more needs to be done. And that’s what will become part of your responsibility.
I hope that your time at CU has been a good experience and know it has sometimes been a struggle for most of you to get to this point – to this commencement – and that we, and you, face hard times. But in contrast to much of the world, we all have to count ourselves fortunate. As you leave the University of Colorado, I hope that you will reflect on that good fortune and dedicate even a small part of your life and resources to celebrating connectedness and to fulfilling responsibility – to family, friends, and community, and to others less fortunate – whether nearby or across the globe.
So, in conclusion, my hope for you is a successful, healthy, happy, but also responsible and contributory future. All of us here salute you and wish you well. Come back frequently, and keep the University of Colorado a continuing part of your life!