I have spent my professional life at Human Rights Watch taking on powerful forces. The task can seem daunting, but I have seen the enormous difference that even a handful of individuals can make. Your generation is perhaps better placed than any previous one to make itself heard.
To express yourself fully means to fashion your own identity. And to do that, the danger of being offended in your identity becomes a vital point: You must be free both to take offense when you are disrespected and to give offense when your own identity demands it.
Whether it is in your career or as a volunteer in your community, I encourage you to do something to serve. Advance your career, yes, but also measure your success but what you do for others — students taught, victims counseled, patients healed.
Our lives are frequently upended by uncontrolled and unforeseen events that shake our confidence in the future. In that event, we can either falter or become even more determined to engage in action that centers on the common good.
This is an essay of appreciation for all the students whose time here has been defined by milestones that they may never share with their professors or future employers. The ones who arrived on campus burdened with sometimes difficult stories, but who then also came to realize that they didn’t have to be wholly defined by those stories — that they had the ability to become authors of new stories, stories of their own.
Members of the Harvard graduating class of 2023, it is my hope that despite shouldering the burden of debts and the power to reform the education system for future generations, you will prosper.
Hold fast to your North Star. Choose it consciously, and make sure it reflects your values. Let it steer what you do and how you serve. As you rise in your careers, you will encounter many different agendas and value systems.