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South Carolina and Globalization

What is one university in South Carolina doing to educate the next generation of world leaders?

October 7, 2005

What is one university in South Carolina doing to educate the next generation of world leaders?

I am honored to be here to welcome you, the Class of 2009, to a world of opportunities and a milestone in your lives.

I would also like to welcome you to a stage in your career when your lives begin to blend with the greater global community. The faculty at Coastal Carolina University is keen to provide you with a roadmap to a world of knowledge and experience that will guide you into the future.

In all likelihood, you have already had an electronic introduction to the global community. Your computer crashes. Feeling panicky, you call an 800 number for technical support.

Jeri, who is based in Bangalore, answers your call and fixes your computer problem. Thus reassured, you go on to research your Shakespeare paper with the help of an Australian website, print it out on a Japanese-designed — but Indonesian-built — printer, and then have a cup of double organic Peruvian coffee for that needed jolt.

No matter how you look at it, globalization — motored by high-speed technology and easy communication — is here to stay. And it will change our lives dramatically in the coming years.

That is why I am here to talk to you about the importance of not just becoming a graduate of Coastal Carolina University, but becoming a global graduate of Coastal Carolina University.

The next four years — plus or minus — will open your eyes to a world of adventure, mystery and new understandings.

For some, this is a journey of knowledge. For others, it is a voyage of experience — and for still others it's a search for the bottom line, a job at the end of the day.

No matter what your major or your ultimate goal, a better understanding of our diverse world, its peoples and cultures and the technology that ties it all together will enrich your lives and make you more competitive in the global job market. That's right — the job market for all of us now is global.

Congratulations, class of 2009, the world is literally your oyster — meaning it's just that small. Globalization has sped up the process of communications, travel, transactions and political interaction.

For you as students, it is vital to understand world events — because I can promise you that they will become ever more important to your daily lives and, particularly, to your career choices and future successes.

As an example of how interconnected our planet has become, let's look at the book Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, which you have been reading in recent weeks. This intriguing memoir is not just a recollection of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, but also a personal account of growing up in Tehran.

Ms. Satrapi writes about her childhood and the struggles of one human being to understand a complex world and her role within it. However, our lives are so intertwined today that her memoir is really your story and mine.

Some of you may have looked at the first page and thought, "Hmm a comic book!" Of course, technically it's a graphic novel. Others, after realizing that the memoir was about Iran, may have thought about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or you may have thought about the global war against terrorism and President Bush's condemnation of Iran as a member of the "axis of evil."

You might say: "Why should I care about Iran? I want to be a marine biologist or an actress or an accountant." But in a globalized world, we are not isolated. The politics of one country affects those of another.

The lax environmental policies of one society might do irreparable damage to the water systems of its neighbors. A change in the price of oil affects the bottom line for businesses right here in South Carolina and our own personal finances when we fill up the tank. No major or career is an island unto itself.

We have heard a lot about the "axis of evil," but Ms. Satrapi is not an Islamic fundamentalist — let alone a terrorist. Growing up, she went to a French secular school. Her parents are educated. They speak multiple languages — and her dad listens to the media from abroad.

They are Muslims, but not the stereotypical fanatics regularly portrayed in the news media. Ms. Satrapi's childhood mirrors that of an average girl in the United States. She was just a girl who liked American music, blue jeans and boys. And she does an excellent job of dispelling the myth that all Muslims are evil.

And yet, her book also acknowledges the complexity of modern Iranian society. The newly elected President Ahmadinejad appears to be a religious conservative who was once even a member of the Revolutionary Guard. You remember, in Persepolis, these are the people who almost turned Ms. Satrapi in just for wearing her jeans and Michael Jackson pin.

In the past year, Iran’s imports soared by 26%. Rich "uptown" areas, like the places Ms. Satrapi visits in the novel, have become havens of western consumer goods that are unavailable to ordinary Iranians.

Will President Ahmadinejad cope with a society partly open to the world and partly closed in upon itself? One-third of Iranians in their 20s have no job. And this summer some 1.4 million young people are expected to sit for state university entrance examinations. They are competing for a mere 200,000 places.

This situation looks eerily similar to what we have all read in Persepolis: young people who are open to the West and have enjoyed a secular education; reformist movements protesting and calling for governmental change.

At the same time, Shiite clerics who distrust too much Western influence call for the nationalization of Iranian oil — and a clampdown on Western goods and ideas. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted to report Iran to the UN Security Council for its uranium enrichment facilities.

So, the current politics of Iran can be viewed through the lens Satrapi's account of revolutionary Iran. The question is: Will reform prevail this time — or will there be another revolution? And, how will this revolution influence the democratization of the Middle East? Clearly, these are complex questions for an ever more connected planet.

Will the conservatives become even harsher and try to have a restoration, wiping out all liberalization witnessed since the days of Khomeini?

These issues are complex, but their solutions depend on you as the next generation of global citizens. Among you, there are teachers, doctors, accountants, ambassadors, CEOs and parents.

Your perspective on the planet and its people will affect not just you and your careers, but future generations. This freshman reading should be just a starting point of a lifetime of world engagement — whether it is in philanthropy, career plans or just plain travel.

I can tell you that my own global experiences have changed my life. Back in 1996 and 1997, I traveled to the Amazon in the back of pick-up trucks with Quichua Indians to interview oil companies' executives about new seismic testing sites.

And I marched alongside thousands of protesters in a peaceful governmental overthrow in Ecuador in February 1997.

This past semester, while teaching a global videoconference course on U.S. and Latin American relations between Coastal University and our partner school in Ecuador, there was another peaceful governmental overthrow of a president who had declared martial law.

Some of the students in Ecuador were U.S. exchange students, observing thousands of demonstrators from children to grandmothers in the streets, banging pots and pans — calling for democracy and freedom.

A U.S. student, who was there during the demonstrations, wrote to me that she never felt more exhilarated. You see, for Jennifer, politics became personal — it came to life for her.

That afternoon, my colleague in Ecuador streamed us footage of live demonstrations all over Ecuador — we witnessed political change real time. Such experiences can change your life.

For all these reasons, take these college years to experience the globe. Did you know that only 1% of all U.S. college students study abroad? Don't miss this opportunity — it will make you understand not just about the world, but also about yourself.

And when you do go out to explore your planet, don't be a tourist buying souvenirs — be a traveler, someone who looks and listens and learns.

At Coastal, we want to make sure that you are globalists — that is, citizens quite literally concerned about how the world hangs together — and that you are critical and active members of the world around you.

During these years at Coastal, you will have a multitude of opportunities to gain experience in the global market place and its cultures. I recommend that you take advantage of the study abroad programs in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe.

Get to know the international students here from over 53 different countries. Why not take a global videoconference course — or chat with students in the education program from Moscow live? You might opt for an internship in Citibank or the United Nations, as some of our students have done this summer.

Most importantly, in every academic program on this campus, there are students, faculty and staff who have lived and worked all over the world and are enthusiastic about advancing your progress toward global citizenship.

Ms. Satrapi wrote Persepolis 2 about her college years. In that book, she makes us think about how the university experience changes us. How is it going to change you? If I handed you a blank journal today, how would you fill it over the next four years?

I hope that you will be part of a new generation of college graduates who will help shape globalization for the benefit of all the world's citizens and I hope you will bring that knowledge back home to share.

The author would like to thank Dr. Richard Collin and Dr. David Millard for their insightful commentaries.