The following is a transcript of Congressman Lieu’s address.
Good evening. Thank you, Vice Provost Fan for your introduction and for your terrific leadership. And thank you to the amazing faculty at the UCLA International Institute. And to the class of 2022: Congratulations, you should be very proud of today.
Many of you worked very hard and persevered through the middle of a global pandemic. And you've managed to make it to this momentous occasion. And I know for many of you, it may not have been easy. You had difficult days. You made sacrifices. Maybe you pulled a few all-nighters, but you did it. And your friends and colleagues and family members and professors are so very proud of you. And I’m honored to be here today to celebrate your accomplishments as well.
When I was first elected to Congress, I had my district swearing in beautiful Royce Hall. And we had this elaborate ceremony. And I remember in the middle of that ceremony, someone pulled the fire alarm and we all had to evacuate. So if that happens again, just know, it's not you, it's me.
I'm so pleased to be back at UCLA, one of the world's best universities. UCLA has so many outstanding schools and centers, including the UCLA International Institute. As some of you may know, it has the highest number of international scholars of any public university, and is number three among all U.S. colleges and universities in terms of international scholars.
And our UCLA graduates are among the best and brightest. I know I'm standing in front of future changemakers not just for America, but for the world. And all of you … and all of you, as graduates of the Institute, have demonstrated a keen interest for global affairs and interest in how we move humanity forward.
So I’d like to discuss a little bit how we move humanity forward. First and foremost, if we want to move humankind forward, we have to have peace and stability. And second, we need countries and organizations to work together on shared goals. Recently, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stated that Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine provided “the dangers of disorder in an international system.” Instead of peace and stability, we now have a land war in Europe. We simply cannot tolerate a situation where bigger countries invade smaller countries simply because they can.
Prior to this invasion, I was in a number of briefings, including classified briefings. So I'm not going to tell you what was said in these classified briefings, but I will say this: The entire world got it wrong on what was going to happen in the first few weeks of the war. If you look at the public reporting before the war, everyone thought that Russia was going to roll into Ukraine and take over their capital Kyiv in a matter of weeks, decapitate Ukraine’s leadership and then install a puppet regime.
Russia failed to achieve its objectives. Russia failed for two reasons. First, they underestimated the incredible will and skill of the Ukrainian people. And second, the United States, our NATO allies and other democracies provided unprecedented amounts of military and economic aid to Ukraine.
While there is still fighting between Ukraine and Russia in southern and eastern Ukraine, the fact remains that Ukraine will remain a sovereign, independent and free nation. That is a monumental achievement.
Yet Russia's invasion has caused enormous consequences around the world. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to go on a congressional delegation to Moldova, the Czech Republic and other countries in support of Ukraine. I saw firsthand the plight of Ukrainian refugees and what these countries are doing, trying to handle all of these refugees.
I also participated in the World Economic Forum at Davos, where one of the top issues was the impending global food shortage that's going to be caused by this war in Ukraine. And here in America and in other countries around the world, we see extremely high gas prices, partly because of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Many of my colleagues and I believe that the war will only end when Vladimir Putin concludes that he cannot win militarily in Ukraine. I serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress. I'm a big believer in diplomacy. I believe in the power of the pen over the sword. But I’ve also concluded that Putin is going to continue this war as long as he believes he can win. And that’s why I believe we need to show him that he cannot.
And that’s why Congress on a bipartisan basis, along with the Biden administration, recently approved $40 billion in military aid, economic aid and humanitarian relief to Ukraine. Now, at some point, this war is going to end. And then it’s going to be incumbent on the United States and our allies, on other countries around the world, and on the United Nations and nonprofits, to help Ukraine rebuild.
And as Ukrainians right now grapple with the horrors of war, unfortunately, they are not alone. We see a massive humanitarian crisis in Yemen as a result of a war . We see the severe effects of climate change in countries like Somalia and Ethiopia and India. And in South America, we still see extreme violence in some countries because of drug cartels. In Colombia, for example, 30% of that country is not controlled by the government. It's controlled by drug lords and by rebels.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to be with a refugee family from Colombia. And I asked the mother why [she fled] Colombia with her children. And she said, “They killed my grandfather” — that gangs had killed her grandfather and they wanted the body back. They just wanted his body back so they could give him a proper burial. So her brother negotiated to get the body back. And when her brother went to the agreed upon location, he was killed. And then they killed her husband. And that’s when she fled.
Now Colombia today is in a better situation than it was 10 years ago. Partly that's the result of aid from the United States and other countries. Partly it’s because the government signed a peace agreement with FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. But there are still horrific stories of violence like the one you just heard.
These problems around the world, both local ones and global ones, are big, complicated challenges. They require leaders, such as the graduates of UCLA International Institute, who are guided by knowledge and by compassion. They also require working together in coalitions.
In the Ukraine war, for example, you have multiple countries trying to handle the flood of refugees and you also have multiple countries providing aid to Ukraine. And these countries also are heavily dependent on nonprofits and relief agencies, as well as the United Nations. In Yemen, the U.S. worked with our Gulf allies to broker a ceasefire. And if we’re trying to address climate change, it doesn’t make any sense for just one country to try to do it.
It is our shared humanity that unites us even in the darkest of times. And it is our shared humanity that’s going to make sure that we defeat evil. As graduates of the Institute, you know that an injustice thousands of miles away can still impact the collective good. And if you allow that knowledge to guide you and your decisions, then you and the world will be better for it.
Before I conclude, I would like to share with you one final thought. And it is this: As far as I can tell, you only live once. So you should pursue your dreams. If your dream is to lead a nonprofit or to teach at a university or to become a jazz musician or [to] run for Congress, you should go for it, because there’s no other lifetime in which to do it.
Your education at the UCLA International Institute has given you the tools to do amazing things. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for the Class of 2022. Thank you and congratulations.