Remarks by the Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet
at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service Commencement
(as prepared for delivery)
May 17, 2003
By tradition, commencement addresses are short - both in length and in memory. That may give me an advantage. In my profession, silence and stealth are virtues.
President DeGioia, Dean Gallucci, trustees, faculty, staff, families, friends, and—-the reason all the rest of us are here today—members of the Class of 2003:
It is truly an honor to be with you today, addressing this class. It is special because this school was the foundation and inspiration for my own career in public service.
And that is so for two very important reasons: the people who lead our school and the values we are taught here.
My dean, Peter Krogh, through his sheer determination and care, built the foundation of this great school. We are all the beneficiaries of his vision. He was passionate about the world and the opportunities that the graduates of the School of Foreign Service would have to make it a better place. Not just for the strong, but for all.
Your dean, Bob Gallucci, is a great public servant with a passion for learning and a powerful moral compass. I know that he has brought out the same feelings of service in you.
Finally, your president, Jack DeGioia—-my very best friend-embodies integrity, discipline, and constant care for this university’s most precious commodity: you, the students. He understands the great role this university can play in the world. With his infinite warmth and humility, he will be our greatest president.
We, as graduates of this school, have been privileged to have these people as our role models.
Let me talk about values.
I have seen many changes on this campus over the years. But what strikes me most is the constant that defines our Georgetown education.
It is not about the facts we absorbed. Not to shock anyone, but for most of you, there will come a time when you are no longer quite as conversant with the Holy Roman Empire or the Bretton Woods Conference. Incredible though it may seem today, Hobbes may eventually start to blend with Locke.
About all I remember now from that theology course called “The Problem of God” is that the problem was not with God. It was with me.
And, to me, a short 27 years after my own graduation, Georgetown is less about facts than it is about values. Not just how to construct an argument or test a theory, but how to make choices.
That is what international politics—like life itself-is all about. And here, you learn that it is not some cold game of realpolitik, with winners and losers. It is about being true to your values. About having the spine to stand up for what is right. About making choices that are not simply practical or clever, but good and beneficial.
That message—that values, ethics, and truth matter; that there is right and wrong—is the message of Georgetown and its Jesuit heritage.
Our school challenges us to examine and develop the two leading engines of progress-the human mind and the human heart. It teaches that they work best when they work together. That we should view the world not only with rigor, but with understanding and compassion.
That while we must work to make things what they can be, we must never lose sight of what they should be.
These are not just career skills. They are life skills.
These talents, and the countless experiences that formed them—-represented by the diplomas you receive this afternoon—were given to you by this great university. Yet, as your parents—or your bank—may one day remind you, they are no ordinary gifts.
Not only were they paid for, they were earned. First and foremost, by you, the Class of 2003.
Every one of you is smart. Otherwise, you never would have gotten into the School of Foreign Service. And every one of you knows how to work hard. Otherwise, you never would have gotten through. You know what the inside of Lauinger Library looks like—by day and, I suspect, by night as well.
You have good reason to be proud of your accomplishments and to be optimistic about your future. You have made the essential commitment to succeed. But you did not make it alone.
Always treasure those who took time from their lives to make a positive difference in yours: your families and friends, your teachers and mentors—most recently the Georgetown faculty, a tremendous asset to you, this country, and the world.
They inspired you to dig a little deeper and give a little more. They opened your eyes to new horizons and possibilities—not only through learning but through attentiveness, sensitivity, and simple decency.
From many backgrounds, from many nations, you came to a school that takes its mission as its name: Foreign Service. Since then, you have seen and studied the world, in its wonder, complexity, and peril.
You looked at global issues that shape headlines and lifetimes. The application of diplomatic, economic, military, and cultural power. Trends in things as new as the latest technologies and as old as supplies of food and water. The AIDS pandemic, which may rob Southern Africa of generations of vital talent and bring serious risk to places like Russia, India, and China.
These factors—and many more-come together to form and influence national and international security. You know them. And you know as well the decisive element that can improve every equation in world affairs: Active, caring human engagement.
That has always been true.
At a moment of growing threat to the United States, our President spoke bluntly: “We well know,” he said, “that we cannot escape danger, or the fear of danger, by crawling into bed and pulling the covers over our heads.”
The year was 1940. The President was Franklin Roosevelt. Today, more than 60 years later, in a time vastly different from the one he knew, his hope to avoid conflict, tempered by his recognition that we cannot ignore danger, still resonates with truth and wisdom.
It is a path our country continues to follow amid grave challenges to our security, indeed to our very lives.
On September 11th, 2001, you saw terrorism in all its brutality. The targets that day were not only planes, buildings, and innocent lives but ideals: freedom, tolerance, justice—hope itself. The sustaining hope that we can build a future that is safer and better than the present.
As the international students graduating here can attest, those ideals do not belong to the United States alone. They define societies and shape aspirations the world over. And so a strong coalition arose to fight terror—a coalition of many governments, each understanding that our enemy respects no borders in its agility, and knows no limits in its cruelty.
The horrific bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco remind us why this campaign will not end soon: Our foe is ruthless, resilient, and hides among innocent people. Terrorists may be many things, but two things they are not: They are not right. And they are not winning.
On one point there can be no doubt: we will prevail.
Those who attack us underestimate the strength of the American people. They underestimate our daring, our resolve, and our absolute focus on a single goal: to prevent them from hurting American families again—or from hurting Moroccan, Kenyan, Israeli, Jordanian, Indian or Saudi families.
We will continue to win battles—and we will lose some as well. But in the end, we and our allies around the world will triumph. We will do it with force, with intelligence, and with the strength of our values. We will do it by providing hope and opportunity—the antidote to those who manipulate vulnerable minds.
Our objective is not miles of territory to conquer, but millions of people to persuade.
Amid the discussions, debates, and peaceful protests over policy—things that make us who we are—we must remember that this is no fight against Islam—a faith that brings comfort and peace to many, including many Americans.
Islam is in no way represented by the new dark age of the Taliban, the mass murderers of al—Qa’ida, or the prisons of Saddam Hussein. As a nation, we must intensify our support for the moderate voices in Islam, who would speak for the true majority. Their views—open, tolerant, progressive—-are the ones that for centuries made the Muslim world a center of culture and accomplishment.
If I had to name the most dangerous foe that we face, it would be extremism—political and cultural—and the conditions that give rise to it. Long—simmering frustrations in places like the Middle East. Governments whose failure to address the needs of their people leave open the door to terrible pseudo—solutions, be it genocide in Central Africa or atomic weapons in North Korea.
America faces many other challenges—ones filled with danger and opportunity.
But one thing links them all: Our ability—and our responsibility—to act where it makes sense to act. To act on behalf of those in this world who have fallen behind.
Here at home, we must hold fast to the things that define us: Our commitment to liberty, fairness, openness, and diversity.
And the conviction that what is bad can be made good, and what is good can be made better. These are the true sources of our strength.
In defense of these beliefs, you have seen the heroism of many—from the streets of Manhattan to the squares of Baghdad. It is to their efforts that you are called to add your own—whether you find your place in government, at a non—-profit, or in the private sector.
I hope that you will join them. It is a calling of thousands of professions, dedicated to helping others. In times like these, the need for heroes is clear.
Every member of this class can be a hero.
The reasons for you to give something back to your society—in time, sweat, or even money—are as compelling today as they have ever been. And the examples of service all around us are as inspiring as they have ever been—from diplomats, warriors, and intelligence officers many miles away to student mentors and volunteers in shelters just a few blocks away.
The key is to contribute something of yourself.
In this, you have a tremendous advantage. You come from a school devoted to service. One that prepares you superbly for life—-not only as a skilled observer, but as a full participant.
37th and O is not a boundary. It is a gate, a gate through which ideas and energy flow—in both directions. This is your chance to make a difference. To add even more to humanity’s stock of creativity, courage, and decency. Of those things, we can never have enough.
I rarely give away secrets, but in closing, let me share a few with you. These eight points guide my life.
First: 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 the United States from Greece just prior to the Great Depression speaking no English, without a nickel in his pocket or a friend in sight. They are the two greatest people I have ever known. Imagine their courage. They dedicated themselves to educating their two sons in a new country. I talk about them with great pride to make my point. Each of you has family stories of courage and sacrifice. They are part of your heritage—reminders of what your values are and who you are as men and women. Never forget them. They will guide you through the darkest days of your life, and sweeten your happiest moments.
Second: Honor the service and the sacrifice of men and women who protect this country and our values. As you sit in The Tombs drinking a beer, remember the men and women in military uniform, the law enforcement and intelligence officers working around the globe, around the clock to protect your way of life—putting their lives on the line, so that you can pursue your life’s dreams in total freedom. Better yet, honor them with service of your own.
Third: 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 the passionate belief that what you are doing is something 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.
Fourth: 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 and religious hatred. It haunts us across continents—in the Balkans, in Central Africa, in the Middle East—-and even here in the United States of America. The fundamental lack of tolerance that people show for each other drives so much of the instability that we confront. Every one of us carries prejudice of one sort or another inside us. Purge it from your souls, get it out, and never turn a blind eye toward hatred when you encounter it—never.
Fifth: Laugh as much as you can. Never take yourself too seriously. Have the ability to stand back and admit your shortcomings and failures with grace and humor. This ability will help you weather any storm in your life.
Sixth: 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, respect, and generosity that have been shown to you. Have a kind word. Offer a helping hand. If 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 plummet down the ladder. The fall will be gentle if people remember you as a caring, considerate human being, and someone will extend a helping hand.
Seventh: Pray. Ask God for the guidance and strength to meet the challenges of life. Put on His armor to face the forces of evil. Manifest His goodness in caring for those who are weak and in need, showing love for others each and every day.
Finally, I would say to all of you-it is a little old fashioned, but you need to hear it: Love and serve your country. In no other country in the world could someone like me stand before you as Director of Central Intelligence. It would happen no place else. I hope that all of you—regardless of nationality—leave here with a greater appreciation of America’s virtues. Whether for a short time or a lifetime, it is a privilege to be on these shores. Never forget that.
When you put these eight things together, they add up to one big secret for success as a human being:
Serve someone other than yourself, serve something bigger than yourself.
Dare to be a hero.
Thank you for the honor you have bestowed on me and my family.
Congratulations to all of you. May God always bless you and your families.