Remarks Type: Remarks as Prepared
Speaker: Donald Steinberg, World Learning CEO
Speech Date: May 21, 2016
Speech Location: Brattleboro, VT

Honored guests:

It is a privilege to be here today and to offer my deepest congratulations to the graduates of the SIT class of 2016. The School for International Training has been helping prepare global leaders and change-makers for more than a half century.

You join a distinguished family of 200,000 alumni of this school and other World Learning programs who are creating a more just, peaceful, sustainable and inclusive world. Your family includes four Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in just the last 20 years.

  • Jody Williams, who mobilized people around the world to end the scourge of landmines;
  • Wangari Maathai, who brought together rural citizens across Africa in the Green Belt movement to honor and respect the land;
  • Tawakkol Karman, who led women in her native Yemen and well beyond to demand female empowerment and press freedom; and
  • Kalaish Satyarthi, who has been a courageous advocate for children’s rights in India and the rest of the world.

And I strongly believe that the fifth Nobel Prize winner is in the class sitting before me. As I sign your diplomas, I linger over them, looking at the names and the degrees, and think to myself what each graduate will contribute to the world.

I think of each diploma as a bond: together, through your hard work and disciplined studies, through the sacrifice of your family and friends, and through the dedicated professionalism of your faculty, you have been empowered to apply your talents and imagination to promote social justice and inter-cultural understanding, and to combat the intertwined challenges of climate change, extreme poverty, illiteracy, disease, marginalization, and global conflict.

You’ve worked with groups like the Fulbright Commission, National Science Foundation, International Center for Transitional Justice, Oxfam, Women Thrive Worldwide, Peace Corps, the Coral Triangle Center, and the Habesha Community Gardens.

You’ve also worked with academic institutions ranging from Yale and U-Conn to Baltimore Community College and Saginaw Valley State University. And I’m delighted that a number of you did your practicums with World Learning’s own Experiment in International Living, CONTACT program, and SIT Study Abroad.

I dare the cynics and the Cassandras of the world to sit in, as I have, on the capstone presentations that reflect the lessons you bring from your practicum experiences.

Let them listen to Theresa Frey describe her research to expand access to basic education for Syrian children in a Jordanian refugee camp.

Or to Angelo Pisano reflect on how to use partnerships to expand study abroad opportunities at a state university in Alabama.

Or to Maggie Strassman outline her efforts to deepen international experiences for students at a small Vermont college.

Or to Shilla Adyero describe her work to integrate advanced evaluation practices into her NGO promoting literacy and human dignity in Northern Uganda.

Let me tell you: pessimism and skepticism don’t stand a chance against the vision and energy of these talented and inspirational young people, as well as every member of this graduating class.

And while your contributions will be individual, their collective impact will change the world. Robert F. Kennedy spoke of the power of collective action in a speech in South Africa exactly fifty years ago, a speech that inspired me as a teenager to dedicate my life to international understanding, human rights, and social justice.

It was during the darkest days of racist apartheid, and Kennedy had been invited to South Africa by the head of our Study Abroad program in order to encourage the resistance movement.  Speaking to courageous activists in Cape Town, Kennedy said:

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Well, if we are all ripples of hope, together, this class has the power to be a Tsunami of Progress.

Finally, SIT’s dedication to making education accessible to a larger community is our growing on-line and blended programs. Could I ask Ashley to stand? We thought that you were the 100th graduate of the international education low-residency degree program. But unfortunately, we did a recount and we are only at 99 thus far. And so instead of getting a full refund on your tuition payments, you will receive my heartiest congratulations and a firm handshake.

In all seriousness, to have made our master’s program accessible to almost 100 educators who otherwise would not have been able to attend SIT is a tribute to our staff, our faculty, and of course, the students.

Once again, my deepest congratulations and thanks to you, the students of SIT’s class of 2016, to your families, and to your faculty instructors. Thank you.