UCLA International Institute, June 21, 2017 — “Parents, children, other family members: Thank you! Thank you for raising and supporting enlightened people — students who understand the significance of the world, students who will go out into the world and seek to change it for the better,” said Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA 37th district) at the UCLA International Institute commencement ceremony in Royce Hall on Saturday evening, June 17, 2017.
The 151 undergraduate and graduate students in Institute programs who attended the commencement ceremony celebrated their completion of B.A. degrees in global, international development and international and area studies, and M.A. degrees in African, East Asian and Latin American studies.
A Democrat who represents Culver City and its environs in the U.S. Congress, Bass’s commencement speech forcefully argued for the United States to retain its leadership role in the world. She began, however, by assuring the parents present that their newly minted UCLA graduates were indeed employable.
“For parents and other family members, you might be wondering, what on earth are they going to do with a degree in global or international development studies?” commented Bass. “Well, I want you to all rest assured that those degrees are very valuable and [the] education and knowledge gained here will pay off for a lifetime.
Addressing the graduates, Bass said, “You now have so many career opportunities to take advantage of, whether it's working in the halls of Congress; serving overseas; working at think tanks, social justice and humanitarian organizations; starting your own businesses; or running for office. The opportunities you have to offer the world with what you learned here at UCLA are without limit.”
Karen Bass at commencement ceremony. (Photo: Tyler Yin/ UCLA.)
U.S. must not abandon its leadership in the world
“The question we're asking — both Democrats and Republicans — is if our nation will continue to be the leader of the free world,” said Bass, who is a member of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs and its Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.
“I'm sure that most of you would be surprised to hear that in Congress, Democrats and Republicans do actually work together, do actually agree with one another, and do actually accomplish some things,” she continued. “If you follow the news, you would have no idea that we even speak to each other… [b]ut I will tell you that there really is bipartisan agreement that we should not abandon our leadership in the world,” she continued.
“[O]ther nations,” reflected Bass, “depend on our leadership — on our fight for human rights, our intolerance of corruption, our commitment to democratic peaceful change of power, our reputation of generosity when there is a crisis, natural or man-made, and truthfully, our own contradictions.
“Our fierce criticisms of our own elected and appointed leaders. The inequity here at home — injustices that we know are often based on race and class — and social problems here in the United States that clearly we have the resources to resolve, but choose not to. All of our strengths and all of our warts — all contribute to the respect that others have for our country,” Bass reminded the audience.
The congresswoman specifically objected to proposed funding cuts to democracy and governance programs. “These are programs around the world that help to stabilize young democracies,” she explained. “It’s hard to imagine that there are many countries around the world where the entire government can collapse and chaos can ensue if an election for a president or a prime minister doesn't turn out as expected.
“[H]ere at home,” she pointed out, “there were massive protests in January, but no one would [had] ever imagine[d] before, during, or after those protests that our whole country would halt and collapse. After the protest in January, our institutions weren't even affected.
“Older democracies,” argued Bass, “like [that] in the U.S., have a responsibility to assist new countries as they build institutions and attempt to stabilize. If funding for democracy and governance programs is eliminated, we will abandon our responsibility to assist others in achieving what we now take for granted. When nations collapse,” she added, “then the ground is fertile for terrorist organizations to move into the vacuum, and when this happens, people leave their countries and you have a refugee crisis.
“It is in our interest to assist other countries to develop their democracies and their democratic institutions,” noted Bass. Using Africa as an example, she emphasized that U.S. engagement in the world was mutually beneficial. “You… might assume that we only give to Africa and that Africa contributes nothing to our way of life. In fact, we are as dependent on Africa as Africa is on us,” she remarked.
“If we do not have access to minerals in Africa, you would not be able to operate your cell phone or your computer. If you like chocolate or drink coffee from Starbucks, there's a chance it's from Africa,” she said. “African nations seek to be treated as partners — “trade, not aid” is their goal, she insisted.
Go out and change the world
“The greatest challenge in the world today is leadership and that's why we need you, the graduates of the UCLA International Institute class of 2017,” said Bass. “We need you to take your place in the world. All of the hard work has been for this moment — all of the extra hours, the extra classes, the extra papers — all of that effort for this very moment now before you.
“I want you to all take a moment and soak it in as much as you can,” she said. “Now notice I said, ‘Take a moment — only a moment!’” she concluded, “because selfishly, I want you to quickly come and join those of us who are committed to changing the world.”
For more photos, see the photo album posted on the Institute's Facebook page.