Remarks of the Director of Central
Intelligence George J. Tenet
at the Johns Hopkins University Diploma Ceremony, Baltimore
(as prepared for delivery)
May 25, 2000
Thank you, George. I know the real reason why you and the selection
committee asked me to be the commencement speaker. Directors of Central
Intelligence cannot say much, so you knew I would be brief. Besides,
my security detail tells me that it is not good to be the only thing
standing between 979 graduates and P.J.'s.
Dr. Brody, Provost Knapp, Distinguished Deans and Trustees, Members of the Class of 2000, Families, Friends, Graduates,
It has been a long four years—struggle and hard work, moments of anxiety and joy, learning how to manage on your own. Congratulations Parents, you've made it. Oh, and congratulations to the graduates as well.
I came here on an important mission today. In fact, I came here to give a mission to you, The Class of 2000, and I hope that you will decide to accept it. It is not a Mission Impossible. In fact, it is a Mission full of possibility. Your Mission is this: Whatever you do in life, wherever you go, find a way to serve your community, your country and the world.
Every one of you is smart and you know how to work hard, or you would not be receiving a Hopkins degree. You have every reason to be a success in the profession that you pursue. You are capable of making plenty of dollars. But the jury is still out on this important question: Will you make a difference?
The diploma that you receive today represents the fulfillment of a serious commitment that you made to yourself. It also symbolizes the enormous commitment that other people in your life made to you. Your parents may have paid a lot of tuition, but most important, they paid a lot of attention, and so did your mentors—your grandparents, aunts and uncles, big brothers and sisters, school teachers, professors, coaches, clergy, neighbors and friends—who helped you along the way.
Each of you is here today because some wonderful human beings took the time to make a difference in your life. They gave you a heritage to live up to. They gave you opportunities that they never had. They gave you moral support and a moral compass—a set of values and a sense of possibility. They challenged you and inspired you to excellence. Whatever you have accomplished—whatever you will accomplish—you owe in great measure to them.
If any of you think you earned a Hopkins ticket to success all by your good-looking self, holed up on D level in the M.S.E., you are either delusional or very lonely, or both. I think your families and your mentors, and all who love and care about you and helped bring you to this day, deserve a big round of applause.
The Mission of Service to your community, your country and the world that I give to you today is worthy of one of your most distinguished alumni Woodrow Wilson, who is often accused of idealism. Wilson once said: "Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American."
Like every American, I am proud of our country and the fact that our nation uses its unequaled power for good. But I do not believe for one minute that the love of freedom, or the thirst for justice, or a compassionate regard for the well-being of other people on this planet are uniquely American traits. As the foreign students graduating today can attest, people all over the world feel these same things, and countless numbers are prepared to serve and sacrifice for their sake. And if that makes you an idealist, may we all have the character to plead guilty as charged, starting with me.
In the intelligence business, you have to be tough and deal with the world as it is. But I can tell you that success in the intelligence business depends equally on a strong sense of idealism, despite what some in Hollywood or the conspiracy theorists would have you believe. The people who work with me are some of the most dedicated and talented Americans you would ever hope to meet. They are conscientious citizens and concerned parents like you in the audience, who want to see their children grow up safe and free in a world that is at peace. And they have devoted their lives to that cause.
Every single day, the men and women of US Intelligence match their wits—and risk their lives—against tough people and tough countries that do not share those ideals: terrorists, rogue regimes, drug traffickers, proliferators of weapons of mass destruction. They do it with some of the most amazing technology ever developed. Even more impressively, they do it with integrity and brains and courage—and more often than not, they do it anonymously. Though you will seldom hear about them, I hope that you will never, never take them for granted. I hope that all of you will do what I do: say a prayer each day for the brave and patriotic Americans who silently defend us in a world that is as dangerous as it is so full of promise.
America finds itself with military pre-eminence, unparalleled political reach and overwhelming economic power. This historic moment may not last, but for now, American leadership makes a crucial difference in this world. You may think that I spend all of my time looking for threats. But it is also my job as Director of Central Intelligence to alert the President to the unprecedented opportunities we have as a nation. Opportunities:
To help consolidate democracy in former totalitarian states.
To help bring peace to the Middle East and other strife-ridden areas of the world.
To help struggling nations increase their prospects for success in the global economy.
To help strengthen the rule of law in countries whose stability is threatened by unfettered crime.
And so many others.
It is the job of US Intelligence to give our national leaders the insight and the flexibility they need to act rather than re-act—to look beyond the immediate and try to shape the future.
The Intelligence Community is now working on a study of what the world might be like in the year 2015. Now it does not take an Einstein to realize that predicting the future is fraught with problems. In fact, Einstein once said: "I never think of the future. It comes soon enough."
All you have to do is reflect on the astonishing events of the last century—two world wars, several vanished empires, the dominance of air power, the appearance of nuclear weapons to name just a few—to see the perils of projection. All of these would have been hard to predict even ten or fifteen years before they occurred. And the world of 2015 may be dramatically different than we expect it to be today.
Just consider what the world was like only fifteen years ago:
Back in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev had no clue that he would be the last Soviet leader.
The Sunday morning talkshows were not talking about "globalization."
The American public was just beginning to awaken to the scourge of AIDs.
Nobody had heard of Bosnia Herzegovina, Osama bin Ladin—or Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys.
In 1985, Steve Wozniak, the designer of the first Apple computer, told USA Today, and I quote: "I don't think home computers will become commonplace. It's difficult to justify why many homes would need one."
That was then. This is now. Our world has entered an epoch of transition—a time of historic opportunities and unprecedented dangers. We live in an age when:
Rapid technological advances fascinate and enrich us, but also create new vulnerabilities. Those who would do grievous harm have greater reach and destructive power than ever before.
Ours is an age of tremendous medical advances and an AIDs pandemic that threatens massive regional unrest.
It is an era when the end of repressive regimes and the advance of democracy are all too often accompanied by outbursts of ethnic hatred that are extraordinarily difficult to contain.
But on a lighter note, let me say that for all the welcome opportunities and the unwelcome surprises in this world, some things remain remarkably consistent. Two cases in point: In 1985, the biggest male pop artist actually was known as Prince. And just last week, he became formerly known as "the artist formerly known as Prince." And, on this very day, May 25, in 1985, the Bluejays won the NCAA Division I Lacrosse Championship over Syracuse— and I am betting that you are about to do it again!
As we learn in sports, life throws curves. We could be struck by luck—or by lightning. We human beings—however powerful or brilliant, good or evil—are fallible, flawed, fickle and fragile. And many of the factors that change our lives and our world radically for the better—or for worse—are inherently unpredictable and outside our ability to control.
As human beings, as Americans, and as citizens of this world, our great hope and responsibility is to use the will and the knowledge and the power we do have to try to shape the future for the better. As new graduates, I hope that you feel this challenge in a special way.
What are some of the trends that we identify today that hold far-reaching implications for the world of 2015? I will cite just a few, and not those you might expect from a Director of Central Intelligence. I would ask you to consider that:
In the last year, Internet use in China jumped from 2 million to 10 million. I will let the math majors extrapolate to 2015. But what will that mean? What will the impact be of an ever growing proportion of China's population entering cyberspace—a place where few respect orthodoxy of any sort?
There will be over 7 billion people in the world in 2015, a billion more than today. More than 95% of this additional population will be born in developing countries—countries that are least able to cope with the pressures this growth will create. What are the implications for regional stability?
We expect the threat from infectious diseases—some re-emergent, some entirely new— to keep growing over the next 15 years, despite important progress that is being made.
And think about the most commonplace—and necessary—of commodities: water. Water, in and of itself, has not been a cause of war for more than 4500 years. In fact, water shortages often have stimulated sharing arrangements. But by 2015, about a third of the world's population will be living in water-stressed regions. We must ask ourselves: This time, will the result be cooperation or conflict?
My question to the Class of 2000 is, fifteen years from now, what will your lives be like?
I hate to break this to you, but in 2015, you will be in your mid-thirties. By then, you are likely to have spouses, mortgages, kids, 20 extra pounds and established careers. But will you have enthusiasm? Will your life have meaning or will you be going through the motions? Will you know who you are and stand up for what you believe? Will you be living your life in a way that does honor to the wonderful people here with you now—your family and your mentors who have enriched your lives, broadened your horizons and helped launch you on the road to success?
What you do with your lives over the next fifteen years—how you choose to live them—can make all the difference—not only to you, but to countless people in this world whom you will never meet. Because of you—and your generation—the world of 2015 can be much less dangerous—and much more humane and healthy — than my best intelligence analysts now dare to imagine. But will you help to make the world of 2015 a better place to live? Will you put your first-class education to work for your community, your country and the world?
As we contemplate the possible scenarios for 2015, one thing that my top analysts and I cannot know—and one thing that can make a powerful difference—is what is on your minds and what is in your hearts.
Whatever your chosen field—medicine, public health, environmental science, international relations, languages, physics, mathematics, biology, engineering, IT—even if, God forbid, you become a lawyer like George Soterakis threatens to do—or quit physics and engineering to become a financial oracle and media mogul like Mike Bloomberg—I hope that you will consider engaging in some form of public service.
Service in government—devoting at least part of your career to it—is one option that I hope you will think about, though I realize that government is not the obvious career choice in a prosperous, dot-com age. If you want excellence in government, then exceptional people must be willing to serve in it.
For those of you who cannot resist the pull of the private sector—hey, this is the United States of America, go for it, make a fortune. But I can tell you with confidence that you will be even wealthier if you remember to "give something back." Devote a significant percentage of your profits to charity. Become a private philanthropist like your founder Johns Hopkins. Out-give Bill Gates. The key is to contribute some of yourself, as well as your money, to a good cause.
Every one of you can make the time to serve on a school board, volunteer at a local shelter, or mentor a kid who needs someone to care. When you do that you are actually exerting tremendous power: the power to create hope and opportunity.
I seldom reveal secrets, but, in closing—and in summary—I will share some with you now. You could call them "George Tenet's Seven Secrets to Success":
Tenet #1: Know who you are. My mother escaped from southern Albania on a British submarine just as the Iron Curtain was closing—never to see her family again. My father came to America just prior to the Great Depression speaking no English, without a nickel in his pocket or a friend in sight. Imagine their courage. I talk about them with great pride to make my point. Each of you has family stories of courage and sacrifice. They tell you what your values are and who you are as men and women—never forget them. They will guide you through the darkest days in your life, and sweeten your happiest moments.
Tenet #2: Honor the service and the sacrifice of men and women who protect this country and our values. As you sit in Starbucks tomorrow night sipping your espressos and your cappuccinos—remember the men and women in military uniform, the law enforcement officers, and the intelligence officers working around the globe and around the clock to protect your way of life—putting their lives on the line, so that you can pursue your life's dream in total freedom. Honor their service. Better yet, be inspired by their example to render service yourself.
Tenet #3: Follow your heart and dare to take risks. If you do not wake up every day with great passion for your work, you will be miserable. Do not just go through the motions. Never put yourself in the position of regretting what you did not try to do. Every experience—whether it is good or bad—if it is based on passionate belief and doing what you love—will give you the will and the character to learn, grow and persevere. Stand up for yourself and your dreams. Do not lose your youthful idealism for the world.
Tenet #4: Fight hatred and prejudice wherever you see it. If there is one thing in today's world that is most responsible for the turmoil we see, it is ethnic hatred. It haunts us across continents—in the Balkans, in central Africa, in the Middle East, and even here in our own country. The fundamental lack of tolerance that men and women show for each other drives so much of the instability that we confront. We all carry prejudice of one sort or another inside us. Purge it from your souls and never turn a blind eye toward hatred when you encounter it.
Tenet # 5: Laugh as much as you can. Never take yourself too seriously. Have the ability to stand back and admit your shortcomings and failures with humor and grace. This ability will help you weather any storm.
Tenet #6: Take care of the people around you. If you take care of people, they will always take care of you. Many of you will rise like meteors to the top of your chosen professions. On the way up, treat the people around you with the decency and respect and generosity that have been shown to you. Have a kind word. Offer a helping hand. And when you reach the top, show a little humility. Why? Because there will come a day when the crash occurs. When failure comes. When you slide down the ladder. The fall will be gentle if people remember you as a caring, considerate human being.
The Seventh, and final Tenet is: Love your country. In no other country in the world could someone like me stand before you as Director of Central Intelligence. Americans are given opportunities that no other country provides. If you do not get a lump in your throat when the National Anthem is played or the flag passes by—come to your senses and recognize that you live in the greatest country in the world.
When you put my "Seven Tenets" together, they add up to one big secret for success as a human being, and it is this: Serve someone other than yourself, something bigger than yourself.
This is the Mission that I give to you today. I hope that you will choose to accept it.
May God bless you and your families. Thank you.