Mr Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Kim Hildebrant
Mr President, Samuel Martin-Barbero
And – most importantly –graduates, relatives and friends
Everyone here knows what a special day this is for you, dear graduates. Some of us have experienced it ourselves.
So I'd like to start by congratulating you! Accomplishing a university degree is a major step in life. It is something that you – and your loved ones – should be proud of. I belong to those who believe that science – any form of science, really – is key to human advancement.
So I commend you for your commitment to study, to be curious, to deepen your knowledge, and to expand your skills.
When I received the invitation to address you today, I did not hesitate to accept – for two reasons:
First, you have proven that you have exquisite taste in picking Lugano, and indeed Switzerland, as the place for your studies. Swiss people are proud of the excellence of their education and research institutes; and I personally am delighted that students with very different backgrounds have come together in Ticino, my home canton, to graduate.
The second reason is that I wish to pay tribute to your courage in choosing a cross-cultural learning environment for your studies. I saw students from many different parts of the world on the list of graduates. It reads like a list of delegates at the United Nations!
Some of you are from developed countries, others from emerging countries or from countries that are working hard to develop further. There are even graduates from countries that are at war with each other.
Crossing borders and learning from each other provides you with leadership qualities: Compassion, understanding, responsibility. These are qualities that our world needs more than ever.
You are finishing your degrees at a critical point in time: The world is becoming less global, less Western, less democratic. It is becoming more fragmented, and also more dangerous.
We are living in 'fluid times', as I would call them. There are major geopolitical, ecological, and technological transformations going on. The international order that has brought security and peace to countries like Switzerland is under heavy pressure.
In Europe, Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine has brought war back to the continent. It has caused Europe’s security order to collapse.
Switzerland has strongly condemned the aggression as a serious violation of international law and called on Russia to withdraw from all Ukrainian territories. And we have taken up EU sanctions.
This is in line with neutrality law and with the Swiss conception of neutrality. Neutrality doesn’t mean indifference.
There are red lines in the military field, of course, but neutrality does not prevent us from standing up for our values.
So the twin of Swiss neutrality is our solidarity. Switzerland has supported Ukraine with humanitarian and development assistance for more than 10 years, and we have expanded this substantially in recent months.
Here in Lugano, we also organized the first Ukraine Recovery Conference last July. As a result of this conference, the international community agreed on the 'Lugano Principles'. These serve as a basis for the reconstruction of Ukraine and give hope to the Ukrainian people.
On the global level, the war has accelerated trends that have been in the making for some years now. Globalisation is in reverse gear. Global power is shifting, and not just because of China’s rise. A period marked by Western ideas and predominance seems to be drawing to a close. The world is becoming more pluralistic.
We are confronted with a series of crises, ranging from war to energy and food insecurity, inflation, debt, and of course climate change. And let’s not forget the pandemic that continues to reverberate.
I do apologize: For a joyful ceremony like today, I am painting a rather sober picture of the world.
But I have also come here with a call for action, and with a firm belief that none of these trends are irreversible!
What we need today are bridge builders.
Bridge builders like Switzerland – and you, the Lugano graduates.
Switzerland is a country based on the peaceful coexistence of different cultures. It is a country where a representative of a linguistic minority, such as the person speaking now to you, can become one of the seven people who govern the country.
The peaceful coexistence of different cultures is one of humanity's main challenges. Languages, misunderstandings, can easily become weapons.
By any definition, Switzerland is a deeply European country.
But we also promote respect between different cultures and societies and have a global outlook.
With its good offices, Switzerland fosters dialogue to rebuild trust, find compromise, and make the world safer.
International Geneva is a place in the heart of Europe where the whole world gathers to jointly work out solutions to global challenges.
As graduates, I dare you to think and act as bridge builders too. Use your intercultural skills. Make an effort to understand the other side and find common ground. Be patriotic and true to your ideals, but consider yourself a global citizen with responsibilities too.
And it is not just bridge-building that we need. A second quality that is required is critical thinking. Here too, graduates like you can and must make a difference.
After a long career in politics, let me give you one piece of advice: Do not believe for a minute that governments can resolve the many challenges we face on their own. Politicians simply do not have all the answers. We need all strands of society, and especially critical thinkers who challenge us, to do better and point to new ways.
So I dare you a second time: Do not simply take your graduation as a ticket for a good life, but use your skills to design the future. Challenge old habits. Be innovative. Question those who offer easy answers to complex questions. Get to the bottom of things.
Whether we are dealing with artificial intelligence, the need for a greener economy, or the growing complexities of making peace: Many issues require new thinking today. You can make a difference!
Many of you will know that Switzerland ranks high when it comes to competitiveness and innovation. It is my ambition as foreign minister to bring this same spirit of innovation into our foreign policy.
To give just one example: Switzerland has launched a foundation called the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator. Its vision is to “use the future to build the present”. GESDA brings together different communities – scientists, diplomats, and citizens – around one common goal: to jointly anticipate technological advancements and develop governance solutions for the benefit of all. It combines critical thinking and bridge-building.
Ladies and gentlemen
In some ways, a commencement ceremony marks an endpoint. It may mean the end of student life. A farewell to colleagues from many countries who have hopefully become friends for life.
But obviously today also marks a real new beginning. Some of you may take up jobs, others will continue their studies.
As many of you may leave Switzerland, it is my hope that in doing so, you maintain strong ties with our country and carry our ideals onwards. And that you choose to build bridges, act as critical thinkers, and become the sort of compassionate and responsible leaders that this world needs.
Thank you, congratulations once more, and best wishes to all of you.
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