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5:38 p.m., May 29, 2010----Following are remarks by Catherine Bertini, presented at UD's 161st Commencement ceremonies, held May 29, 2010, in Delaware Stadium.
I am powerful.
I am powerful.
An unequivocal statement by this young Ethiopian woman.
I am powerful.
CARE, the nongovernmental organization whose mission is to fight global poverty, recruited this woman and others to send her message around the world.
CARE argues that she is powerful because she has an education:
--Because she is educated, she can earn an income and lift her family out of poverty;
--Because she is educated, she knows how to avoid HIV AIDS;
--Because she is educated, she has fewer children, half as many as her uneducated sister;
They, and the children she bears are healthier and educated as well.
She is powerful for another reason: I work for her.
She doesn't know me; she never will. But I am one of many who:
--manage organizations that send food to her school to help her learn;
--support advocacy groups that influence her government to change its policies on issues like land ownership, inheritance laws, and access to credit;
-- I am one of many who help create scholarships so she can go to secondary school.
Because I help support simple changes that allow her and millions of young women like her to control their own destiny, not only is she powerful but I am powerful.
I am powerful when I do something to create a program that serves people.
I am powerful when I influence governments or others to do something constructive for the poor.
How did I achieve such power?
Well, I started by telling myself, at age 17, that I would make a difference in the world. That's it. I had the power of my own conviction that I could be a force for positive change.
I did not know what that would be, or where i would work. It could have been in my neighborhood, my county, my state, my country. I only knew that I would not stop until I made some kind of difference somewhere.
So after earning a bachelor's degree in political science from a state university, and working in politics and in the private sector, i joined the federal government. It was there, that I began what has become a career-long effort to empower women and to help to dramatically improve the lives of poor women and their families.
In the federal government, I have:
--written the law to create substantive training programs for mothers on welfare;
--established the framework to create what is now a national system for delivering food stamp and welfare benefits electronically;
-- reated a food package for poor mothers who breastfeed their infants
--established the food guide pyramid.
Then, I had the honor of joining the United Nations World Food Program. We:
--fed essentially all the school children in North Korea for five years;
--opened bakeries for widows in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where the women couldn't leave their homes;
--delivered food and water to people in Africa who were at risk of starvation due to serious droughts;
--fed over 700 million people during my 10 years.
Today, I have joined with former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman to provide the intellectual outline for a new U.S. government initiative to support the needs of poor farmers throughout the developing world, to help those women and men work their way out of poverty due to the increased production of their own crops.
But, probably my most rewarding role, I teach graduate students to help them prepare to change the world.
Now, if a girl from a small town in upstate New York can do that, there is absolutely no question that all of you can do that, now, and more: You are powerful.
You are leaving here with a first class degree from the University of Delaware, and you are entering a world full of opportunities and a world full of needs. You have the freedom, the liberty, to choose what to do, as in the old Dr. Seuss rhyme: “You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
You are powerful.
You may choose to do as your illustrious fellow alumnus Vice President Biden has done, and as I understand some seniors have already begun to do. You can create hospitals in Haiti, schools in Africa. You can join the Peace Corps or Teach for America; you can enter government service or enlist with a nongovernmental organization that does charitable work for the underserved. You can research the development of more nutritious food to be grown in tropical climates.
You may choose to influence the process. Perhaps your career will be in finance, in business, in engineering, in transportation, in technology. Then you can influence systems and processes and on your own time:
--improving the school system in your neighborhood,
--supporting more funding for at risk youth,
--asking your representative to prioritize actions that help guarantee human rights internationally, or
--donate to the fight against world hunger and poverty.
Your question of the day is: No matter what your career choice that you commence today, in 2050, when you come back to Newark for your 40th college reunion, what will you have done that will have made you satisfied and proud of your life?
Edmund Burke, the 18th century British philosopher, once said, “All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world, is for enough good people to do nothing.”
Your degree from the University of Delaware has prepared you to think, to learn, to achieve, to lead, to inspire. It has infused you with the power to do good.
You can change the world.
We can't wait to see how well you do it.
You are powerful.
Photo by Duane Perry