About the Speaker:
A native of Lexington, he now lives in Geneva, Switzerland, where he serves as the Director General of the International Organization for Migration.
Swing is the recipient of the 2012 O.B. Michael Award, presented annually during commencement.
william lacy swing '56
It is an honor and pleasure to share in your moment of joy, and to be back in these familiar surroundings.
I once sat where you sit today — but that was more than a half century ago when I graduated with the Class of 56.
Anyone looking at my life since might very well ask the question – how did a farm boy from nearby Lexington become a United States Ambassador with 40 years of diplomatic service to our country — 30 of them in Africa — another decade with the United Nations in charge of peacekeeping operations in Western Sahara and the Congo; and now heading the world's leading migration agency?
The answer, in large measure, is Catawba College. It all began right here.
It was here in these hallowed halls that I acquired the fundamental skills of a liberal arts education — critical thinking, analysis, interpersonal relations, an historical perspective, writing and communication, and a passion to serve — skills that I draw on still today in trying to help countries and migrants to establish a better life.
This institution gave me the tools and confidence to help me find my bearings in new situations. Catawba awakened a thirst for knowledge and a life-time of learning.
Catawba College opened doors for me into a wider world that led to additional doors to serve my government and the American people in a challenging and fulfilling career.
The thin thread that has linked my US diplomatic service, United Nations and all my assignments – ministry, teaching, diplomacy, peacekeeping, migration – has been that of "scholarship and service" the very mission of this venerable institution.
As I look out at this large crowd of graduates, families and friends, I can only reflect on what an extraordinary moment in history this in in which you are receiving your degrees — a moment in time of our country and the world in which your talent and energy, your passion and commitment are more urgently needed than ever.
Yet, rarely before in recent history has the path of promise been littered with such peril.
The global economic crisis continues to have a profound impact on the joblessness and underemployment of your generation. In fact, across the world, young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, with young women by far the most disadvantaged and vulnerable within the current economic climate.
I know that many of you face uncertain futures — student loans to repay, limited job prospects, and general malaise and uncertainty.
Yet, I am here to encourage you, to urge you to remain positive; to shoot for the stars, to dare to dream, and to heed your calling in whatever direction, discipline, or form that may be.
Despite the challenges you face as university graduates in an era of austerity, you should always remember that you are a privileged elite — not only in your state, or in your country, but globally — especially when you consider that 40% of the world's population of 7 billion are under the age of 24 and of that number, 85 percent live in the developing world, and the US economy is doing better than most.
You should also remember therefore that with privilege comes responsibility — the duty to put to work what you've learned — to make the world better tomorrow than it is today. And that starts with having a better understanding of the world in which you live.
With these personal words of introduction, let me make three points drawn from my experience as a diplomat, UN peacekeeper and international organization executive.
During your lifetime, the earth has moved beneath our feet. The world has witnessed a number of revolutions over the past two decades since most of you were born. I want to mention three.
The first of these is the changing nature of conflict.
I. CHANGING NATURE OF CONFLICT
As the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, the "winds of change" swept away the Cold War order. Diplomats pondered what would fill the ensuing vacuum. It didn't take long to find the answer.
During your lifetime, more than 100 armed conflicts have led to bloodshed on a scale rarely known before: from the killing fields of Cambodia, Congo, Rwanda, and Somalia — to ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia; and from fighting in East Timor and Sri Lanka to the Sudan, Yemen and more recently Libya and Syria.
A. Conflict trends
In Central Africa alone, where I spent 15 years of my professional career as a diplomat and peacekeeper, there have been a dozen UN peacekeeping operations in as many countries since the early 1990s.
Together these conflicts have caused more than six million deaths (four million of these in the Congo alone); millions of refugees, IDPs and wounded, HIV infected, and incalculable economic and infrastructural destruction.
Since the Cold War's end, war, or the prospect of war on a global scale or between world powers, has thus given way to a period of smaller, regional, intra-state conflicts.
These conflicts have nonetheless been deadly, partly because of the proliferation of small arms as the downsizing of many armies in the post-Cold War era resulted in small arms surpluses which headed to markets with loose or no control.
That's the bad news. There is some good news, however.
First, the total number of wars has declined by about 50 percent since the 1990s.
Second, whereas from 1946 to 1990, twice as many conflicts ended through victory rather than through negotiation, in contrast, between 1995 and today, negotiated settlements were three times as likely to end war as military victory.
An International Peace Institute study found that, "more wars have ended than started since the mid-1980s, reducing the numbers…of armed conflicts in the world by roughly half." It notes that 70 percent of these were concluded through negotiation rather than outright military victory or defeat. The United Nations has been associated to the resolution of many of the major conflicts.
What have we learned from all this?
B. New skills and new partners for a new era
First of all, that peacekeeping and nation-building skills must urgently be added to traditional war-fighting skills. We have learned this lesson in Iraq, and we are learning it in Afghanistan, where I traveled last month to meet with Afghan officials and where our daughter is serving as a UN peacekeeper.
The issue of peacekeeping and nation-building skills was certainly relevant in Haiti, where I served as our Ambassador for five years in the 1990s.
During my mandate, 21,000 US troops invaded Haiti in 1994 in "Operation Restore Democracy" — to restore the legitimately-elected President. The military force suddenly, however, had to undertake a range of non-traditional military tasks, including reconstruction, public health and rule of law, in addition to helping maintain public order.
A second lesson that we must remain engaged if we are to be successful in helping countries emerge from conflict. Too often we depart before there is a minimum of indigenous institutional capacity, and our inevitable re-engagement is more costly and less likely to succeed.
Finally, the potential of "soft power" has been underestimated. Negotiations can be more effective than war, which should always be a last resort.
II. WORLD ON THE MOVE: The Changing Nature of Human Mobility
A second revolution during your life time is that of the explosion in human mobility – the so-called "third wave" of globalization after the free movements of goods, capital and services. Here, I would like to draw on my experience as IOM Director General.
Today, we live in a world on the move. Numerically, more people are on the move than at any other time in recorded history.
There are nearly 1 billion migrants in the world — one in every 6 or 7 people — made up of some 214 million international migrants and 740 million internal migrants.
Were the 214 international migrants to come together to form a single nation that country would be one of the world's ten most populous – "Migratoria" or "Migrantland"?
Were these same migrants to pool their annual remittances – money they send home to their families — of more than US $400 billion, their combined GDP would surpass the GDP of several developed nations, including that of the country that hosts the International Organization for Migration – Switzerland; or Finland; or Kuwait.
Migration is humanities' oldest action against poverty – the powerful manifestation of an individual's desire for development, dignity and a decent life – even if it means doing the dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs – jobs that domestic workforces often shun.
Many countries – including our own – were built on immigration and immigrants. Moreover, many an American has also left our shores to search out new opportunities and adventure abroad in new homes. I myself have spent nearly 40 years overseas, but my American roots are as strong as ever.
A. Anti-migrant sentiment
It is a cruel irony then, that, many countries now feel under pressure to close their doors to migrants.
Once simply a sensitive national political issue, migration has become increasingly a geopolitical security issue that tends, at times, to scapegoat migrants in general and criminalize those with irregular status.
The American experience is that migration is a natural, necessary and potentially enriching phenomenon; that migrants are human beings who, like ourselves deserve respect, humane treatment and our thanks for the skills, innovation and social and cultural enrichment they bring.
Here in North Carolina you know this firsthand. North Carolina has one of the most rapidly growing immigrant populations in the country. Today, roughly 1 of every 15 persons here is foreign born. The contribution of this influx comes in many forms, perhaps the most obvious is the multi-millions of dollars they pay in state and local taxes.
Rampant anti-migrant sentiment here in the US and abroad is based on a series of complex sentiments, including:
- heightened anxiety in the face of a global economic crisis;
- insecurity and the ever-present threat of terrorism; and
- one's sense that his or her personal identity is threatened;
Yet, there are hopeful signs on the migration horizon.
There is growing consensus that migration is an enduring "mega-trend" of the 21st Century – a megatrend that is inevitably, necessary, and if well managed, desirable.
The future of migration is fuelled by a full array of dynamic forces.
B. Migration drivers
- Demography and Demand
The first major driver of migration is the discrepancy between the demographics and labor requirements of ageing, declining industrialized States and the exponentially expanding, unemployed youth populations in the rest of the world.
The population of the world's industrialized countries – in most of which more people are dying than being born – is expected to decline 25 per cent further by 2050.
Europe alone will find itself in need of 50 million workers by 2040 — workers it will not have without large-scale migration.
While the demand for skilled migrant workers for knowledge and innovation will increase significantly, far greater numbers of less skilled workers will be required to do the jobs for which there are simply not enough people.
Likewise, on the supply side, most of the world's expected population growth will be concentrated in today's poorest and youngest countries: this equates with growing numbers of young people entering the labor force seeking out the largely non-existent employment opportunities at home.
The fundamental trend, therefore, is that of large-scale population movements for much of this century.
- Population growth, urbanization and global crises
The second driver of large-scale migration: continued population growth, inexorable urbanization and multiple, often simultaneous, global crises. The year 2010 was the first time in recorded history in which globally, more people were living in cities than in rural areas.
Studies show that the world's population is growing by some 200,000 persons per day, with Africa's population alone expected to double to 1.8 billion by 2050 – the twentieth century having already seen greater population growth than any previous century.
This exponential growth threatens to outstrip agricultural production and distribution and accelerate North-South socio-economic disparities.
Your generation will have to address increasingly frequent, severe multiple global crises – relating to food, water, health care, resources, economic/financial issues, climate change, security, persistent human rights abuses and terrorism – together with the changing nature of warfare, in which individuals and groups today increasingly pose greater security threats than military establishments or nuclear arsenals.
According to the World Bank, this year 1.5 billion people are living in areas affected by violence. The most damaging effect of all these elements, individually and collectively, may well be that of mass population displacement.
- Multiple complex humanitarian emergencies
Human-induced humanitarian disasters will continue to have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, along with slow- and rapid-onset natural disasters.
For example, in 2010 more than 300 million people were affected by 350 natural disasters – the vast majority in poor, vulnerable communities.
Environmental and land degradation and climate change will continue to have repercussions on lives, livelihoods and development as we know them, and therefore will have profound implications for human mobility.
Governments must do more to educate and inform the public about inexorably changing character of the nation state – toward greater multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural, multi-religious societies. I urge you to develop tolerance
III. THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION: The Changing Nature of Communication
The digital and social media revolution is a third global phenomenon that has shaped our world over the past two decades.
In the year 2000, 390 million people had access to the Internet. Today, 2.4 billion people are connected — 35 percent of the world's population of 7 billion.
The Digital Revolution has spawned social media such as Facebook (with more than 900 million active users – 80 percent of whom live outside the US) and Twitter (with more than 400 million active users).
Social media and the internet are connecting people like never before, giving people easier communication and instant exposure to information; the same information was in the past restricted, or simply not available. The digital revolution has also given youth a powerful voice to articulate their needs, articulate concerns and mobilize action to attain their rights.
The economic impact of the digital revolution has radically changed how individuals and companies interact. Concepts such as "on-demand services" have made possible new innovations in all aspects of industry and everyday life.
Yet, the digital revolution poses challenges: media saturation, information overload, internet predators among others.
Social media and the internet are strengthening networks of migrant communities, making information on movement opportunities readily available, in every major migration corridor around the globe from here in North America to Central Asia and the former Russian Republics.
The Internet is, and will remain, a driving force in the desire of youth to migrate to improve their lives. Indeed, the challenge for a number of countries is to try to find ways to keep their talented youth from emigrating.
So what does all this mean for you as new graduates and global citizens?
In a nut shell, it means that the biggest challenges we face in our world today — climate change, food insecurity, extreme poverty and radical ideologies — will be addressed by your generation — the 60 percent of the world's population that is under the age of 30, because my generation failed to do so despite its efforts.
You will need to do a better job than previous generations, using these new technologies to prepare a future worthy of this institution, of our great country, and of a world we all wish to create together for future generations.
The Arab Spring illustrated how youthful energy, innovation, and social media, can change political marginalization and unfair treatment.
Around the world, young people are taking leadership roles as community leaders, peacebuilders in conflict-torn neighborhoods and villages.
Even in newly arrived migrant families, the youngest family members are often the most influential in facilitating integration by acting as translators or cultural mediators.
And in my own Organization, 30 percent of our 9000 staff are under the age of 30. Time and again they demonstrate exemplary bravery and dedication to our humanitarian responses and development programs.
No one expects that you will all be diplomats or humanitarian workers — though I hope some of you will – but there is a role you can play in the Digital Revolution by being plugged into the world around you — and using knowledge purposely.
With the new technologies at your disposal – smart phones and IPADs — there's every opportunity to be what the Secretary of State Clinton has called "citizen diplomats" – citizen activists using social media connections to forge global partnerships, to promote transparency and accountability, and to join the search for solutions to our planet's common problems.
We've seen it across the Middle East and North Africa, and even here in the US where social networking platforms played a key role in our last Presidential election.
CONCLUSION: LOOKING BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE
In closing, after tomorrow you are free to begin the next stage of your life. New exciting vistas lie ahead of you; new opportunities, new challenges and a world that awaits your contribution.
It's understood that Baccalaureate and Commencement addresses should conclude with sage advice, or admonitions, or a challenge.
So, in that tradition let me offer three bits of counsel that I hope will be useful as you heed your call and pursue your own individual path:
- First, continue learning all your life about the world you live in and about your place in that world — a world that is in constant evolution. To do otherwise risks being left behind;
- Second, look beyond the bottom line. Remember to care, to serve, to help pay back the good fortune you have had. Most of the world is less fortunate than you.
- Third, stay positive. The glass is always half full. Winners never lose; losers never win. You've worked hard for an excellent start. Finish strong!