Remarks by the Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet
at the University of Oklahoma Graduation Ceremony
(as prepared for delivery)
May 10, 2003
President Boren, Regents, Officers, Deans, faculty and staff of the University of Oklahoma, families, friends and - most importantly - members of the class of 2003:
What money is to Wall Street, what celebrity is to Hollywood, talk is to Washington DC. There, words are a major export - speeches are a way of life. But I have been to this state and school often enough to know that here, when it comes to concluding remarks like these, there is a rule that everyone appreciates: Sooner is better.
For most students, graduation is a welcome celebration. For a few, it is a pleasant surprise. To all, it should be a source of enduring pride. You made it - through the courses, the papers, the exams - even the parties
When Sooners fix their sights on a goal, there are very few forces that can keep them from it. Just ask the defensive line from Washington State or-better yet-ask the University of Texas.
For all the reasons that make this great university what it is - its constant pursuit of excellence in academics, research, the arts, and athletics, and its powerful sense of identity and community - I am privileged to be associated with this class. If it is true that we are judged by the company we keep, I cannot hope to do better than I have this morning.
In your years at OU, you have been tested and you have tested yourselves. You have extended what you know - about the world and about yourselves. This is not a place that teaches you what to think, but rather how to think. How to deal with different points of view. How to work through problems. How to absorb new knowledge, and to recognize that there is always more to know.
OU has a second purpose, no less important: to prepare you for service - to your community, your state, your country, and beyond. In this, you are especially fortunate to have as a university president a man who combines a commitment to excellence with a commitment to others.
David Boren is my lifetime mentor and friend-the man whose example of service and values I have chosen to follow. He taught me that when it comes to our nation’s security there are no Republicans or Democrats; there are only Americans.
His central legacy is the rebuilding of this great university in the heartland of the United States, and his relentless determination to build a safer America and a more secure world by being a champion of education and public service.
David Boren stands for the many, many Oklahomans who enrich the society that has in so many ways enriched all of us.
Among them are dozens of OU graduates, officers of the organization I am honored to lead - the Central Intelligence Agency. Each day, here and overseas, with passion, courage, and in anonimity, they and their colleagues rise with a single purpose: to protect Americans and their families. They are the best of the best.
Like them, you are each heir to the rich legacy of this school. It is a legacy you have earned. In long hours of study in places like Bizzell Library. And on Saturday afternoons in this stadium, with more than a few thousand of your closest friends.
Whatever the challenges, you met them head-on. But you did not meet them alone.
Always treasure the professors and teaching assistants who inspired you to dig a little deeper, or work a little harder, who opened new horizons to you or literally changed your life - not only through learning but by attentiveness, sensitivity, or simple decency.
Mom and Dad paved the way for you to reach graduation with generous amounts of care and affection. Your grandparents and siblings - your coaches, neighbors, and clergy - all had a role.
Each of you is here 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 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 spurred you to excellence.
Whatever you have accomplished - whatever you will accomplish - you owe in great measure to them.
And so, I think your families and your mentors, and all who love and care about you and helped you get here, deserve a big round of applause.
Today, the United States is the lone superpower, with global interests and worldwide reach - part of everyone’s problem and everyone’s solution.
And by this I mean more than Afghanistan and Iraq, where crises called forth from us a military response. There is another, underlying story that must be told: the story of societies and peoples who are left behind, excluded from the benefits of an expanding global economy, whose lives of hunger, disease, and displacement may become wellsprings of disaffection and extremism.
The message here may be captured best by the Chinese language, in which the word “crisis” (wei-ji [Way-gee]) is formed from two characters - one meaning “danger,” the other “opportunity.”
Amid the many dangers to U.S. national interests, we must never lose sight of the opportunities, places where we can make a positive difference, where hope might triumph over despair.
For the past 20 years we have lived with a global AIDS pandemic, which last year killed more than 3 million people. It threatens to rob Southern Africa of generations of leaders and workers, of farmers and educators-with devastating effects on economies and societies.
Is this a security issue? You bet it is. With more than 40 million people infected right now, a figure that-by 2010-may reach 100 million, AIDS is building dangerous momentum in regions beyond Africa. And not just the absolute poorest, either. Countries like Russia, India, and China will face major risks.
But against this dire picture, a promising counterpoint: in Uganda, Thailand, and Brazil, the epidemic has been dramatically slowed - through a combination of decisive leadership, education, and treatment. The difference is human intervention-resources and energy-and here, too, the United States plays the leading role.
In this land of plenty, we sometimes forget the 825 million people around the globe who are chronically malnourished. And food aid requirements this year will rise more sharply than other categories of humanitarian assistance, because of drought, instability, and struggling governments.
But, even here, there is optimism: The number of undernourished people in developing countries has-by some counts-dropped by 130 million since 1980. And world supplies of food are 20 percent higher than when I graduated from college.
Through these stories-and many more-there runs a common thread. A thread of hope and determination. A thread made possible in large part by the fact that Americans have opportunities to act-to make the world a better place. Not just for the strong, but for all.
In your years on this campus, you have seen us answer the greatest challenges and the gravest threats. On September 11th 2001, you saw those who despise the things for which we stand exploit the trust and openness of our society. They did so to strike at our values: freedom, opportunity, and tolerance.
America will not fight the battle against terrorism as we fought the battles of the past. Our targets are often small groups or individuals, who take shelter among the innocent. Our objective is not miles of territory to conquer, but millions of people to persuade.
This war will not end with a peace treaty. And it will not be resolved on traditional battlefields, with massed conventional armies. It will end only when global terror is broken, stripped of its support and ability to strike.
On one point there can be no doubt: We will prevail.
Those who attacked us underestimated the strength of the American people. They underestimated our daring, our resolve, and our absolute focus on one goal: to stop them from hurting American families again.
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.
This fight is not with Islam -- a great religion with traditions of tolerance that encompasses over a billion people and hundreds of cultures.
This struggle pits a narrow, intolerant view of Islam against a rich, open view that for centuries, made Muslim societies guardians of learning and engines of achievement.
Though this competition may seem distant, its outcome matters. We must identify with the voices of moderation. We must help them as they seek to educate new generations and create opportunities for their people-opportunities that will deny extremists the ability to manipulate the hearts and minds of the vulnerable.
In very different circumstances, Oklahoma witnessed extremism at its brutal worst. Amid your grief, with their strength and compassion, the people of this state have shown that those who love and build ultimately defeat those who hate and destroy. The courage of Oklahomans is echoed today in the valor of all who fight terror.
America faces many other pressing 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.
When we encourage tolerance, inclusiveness, and freedom - we gain far more than we spend. These values are what make America strong, but - as the foreign students graduating today can attest - their true power lies in their universal appeal.
They also lie at the core of every person dedicated to public service, every woman and man who treasures our liberties and wishes to protect and extend them. Their skill, their sacrifices, and their unwavering idealism can inspire the world.
I hope that you will consider joining their ranks - it is a calling of thousands of professions, all dedicated to helping others. In times like these, the need for heroes is clear and compelling.
Every member of this graduating class can be a hero.
The possibilities are as varied as you are. No matter what the career, from diplomacy to the military, politics to law enforcement, from volunteering at a local shelter or mentoring a child who needs someone to care.
The key is to contribute something of yourself.
In closing, let me share with you “George Tenet’s Eight Secrets to Success.” It is a formula that has worked for me, and I hope it works for you.
TENET #1: Know who you are: Let me tell you a story. 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 tell you what your values are and who you are as men and women - never, ever forget them. They will guide you through the darkest days in 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 Mont tomorrow night drinking a swirl - or if you are at O’Connell’s having a beer - remember the men and women in military uniform, the law enforcement and 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.
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 men and women 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 problem 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 and 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, if they do, 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, the son of immigrants, stand before you as Director of Central Intelligence. It would happen no place else. 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. Never be ashamed to be proud of this rare privilege.
When you put all these “Eight Tenets” together, they add up to one big secret for success as a human being, and it is this:
Serve someone other than yourself, serve something bigger than yourself.
Dare to become 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.