Whitfield High School Commencement

At Webster University, we serve students at campuses in 60 cities, in eight countries, on four continents around the globe. Our mission is to provide high-quality learning experiences that transform these students for global citizenship and individual excellence. 

But a natural question when you hear that is: What does it mean to be a global citizen in this day and age? Certainly the definition is evolving. Cultural norms change, technology changes what’s possible with how we communicate and interact, and major events alter our understanding of one another.

Today we communicate with people around the world instantaneously, through channels and with immediacy that your parents never would have dreamed possible. When I was growing up, it was a cherished memento when I received a thank you note from the office of Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of the assassinated president, after I had sent condolences.

Today, the Dalai Lama is following my husband on Twitter.

This speed and accessibility changes our societal norms in many ways, but I believe one critical way is that it expands our conception of “Who is your family? Who is your community?”

More people speak more languages, and when they don’t they have friends or even software to translate for them. Revolutions in the Middle East, elections in Afghanistan, upheaval in Ukraine – all are brought to our eyes in an instant, and we can instantly reach out to those we know.

What’s more…along with this increased frequency of interaction comes an expansion of what we mean by “family.” The more you see the world as your own family, your own community, the more you feel an obligation to do right by it.

You have likely seen in the news the historic flooding that is devastating the Balkans. And you may know that St. Louis has the largest population of Bosnians outside of Bosnia itself. Webster University, as an institution that serves so many St. Louisans, has a large population of Bosnian natives in our student body and among our staff.

Today, our local Bosnian population has faster access to learn updates what is happening in their native land, as well as the ability to rally support for them. The Bosnian Chamber of Commerce in St. Louis has organized relief drives, and Bosnians among us have brought us into the fold. Because we care about our friends, we care about what is important to them. The world is drawn closer together. Our definition of our own “family” and “community” expands. Our global connections deepen.

I would like you to think of that concept of community, and about how you can use today’s global world for good and productive means. For example, on social media and in the news, who are the celebrities we pay attention to? If the number of twitter followers is any guide, it’s pro athletes, Hollywood celebrities, reality TV stars – people who are famous just for fame alone. Famous for entertaining, but not necessarily for doing anything for the world.

But as I mentioned, the Dalai Lama is on Twitter, too. If we dig a little deeper, there are far more meaningful “celebrities” whose message and mission are available to us. Recently Webster had the pleasure of visits from two storied global leaders: Andrew Young, the civil rights leader who was by Martin Luther King Jr.’s side the day he was assassinated, and Koko Tanimoto Kondo, the youngest survivor of the atomic bomb, who has spent most of the past 70 years as an advocate for international peace and reconciliation. Both shared their message of peace, of understanding, of empathy with our community. We were able to rebroadcast that message throughout the world, and to our international campuses and their communities, through the modern modes of social media and instant communication.

Wouldn’t we all be better off if we tried to emulate those who try to improve the world, rather than those who merely entertain it?

With the pace of new technologies, we can interact with those from other countries more than ever before. We can watch what they do via video, we can read what they think on the Internet – all of these developments mean our ability to learn from other cultures and increase understanding is growing.

Of course, social media and technology cannot replace world travel. But it does enhance it. Only 30 percent of American’s have passports – that’s a twofold increase from 15 years ago, but still a far cry from places like Canada (60%) or the United Kingdom (75%).

The world has become more global before our very eyes. Population growth is accelerating elsewhere – where multilingualism is common -- but not here. The opportunity to be global citizens – to travel, to interact, to learn, to understand, to build relationships and bridges – with those from other cultures has expanded.

If you take the opportunity to seize it, your family, your community, can be everywhere. And the world will be better off for it.

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