Merkel’s Valuable Advice

Muawad Mustafa Rashid

The former German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, addressed the annual ceremony, at Harvard University in the USA. In her speech that earned several standing ovations, she advised the graduates to go out into the world and “tear down walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness, for nothing has to stay as it is.”

At Commencement, the German chancellor urged the graduates to embrace new beginnings, cautioning them to take nothing for granted.

“Our individual liberties are not givens. Democracy is not something we can take for granted, Neither is peace, and neither is prosperity” said Merkel, adding “But if we break down the walls that hem us in, if we step out into the open and have the courage to embrace a new beginning, everything is possible”.

Speaking primarily in German, with her remarks periodically translated into English, Merkel drew from her own remarkable life story as a 35-year-old scientist in communist East Germany who rose through the ranks of the newly unified state’s political system to become Germany’s first woman chancellor and, many analysts would argue, leader of the free world. She urged the new graduates to take risks, make thoughtful decisions and hold onto core values.

She recalled her frustration at walking past the Berlin Wall every day on her way home from work. It has a barrier of steel and concrete that divided the city, its people, and its families, including her own.

“Every day, I had to turn away from freedom at the last minute,” she said of her early years, during a 35-minute speech to the graduates and alumni during the annual meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) before an overflow crowd at Tercentenary Theatre.

“The Berlin Wall limited my opportunities. It quite literally stood in my way. However, there was one thing that this wall couldn’t do through all those years. It couldn’t impose limits on my inner thoughts, my personality, my imagination, my dreams, and desires”.

Indeed the wall’s unexpected fall in 1989, with the collapse of communism not only ended a divided Germany, but it also presented Merkel with new possibilities, including a chance to become someone she never imagined she could be.

“A door suddenly opened” and “I was able to cross this border and venture out into the great wide open” she recalled.

What she learned from that transformative experience, she told the audience, was that “anything that seems set in stone or inalterable can indeed change” and that they ought to approach the walls they’ll inevitably encounter in their lives, whether physical, social, intellectual, or cultural, in a similar fashion.

During Morning Exercises the German Chancellor was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree for her resolute leadership on the world stage and her unwavering defense of democratic ideals and international cooperation.

More a traditional commencement speech than a political address, Merkel’s remarks did touch on several topical foreign-policy issues.

She touted the benefits of the European Union and multilateralism, the importance of a transatlantic relationship with the US that is “based on democratic values and human rights, and – as Europe braces for a possible trade clash with the US – mutual prosperity as a result of international free trade.

In a television interview, Merkel said showing democracy in action was the best way to confront dangers posed by Europe’s rising populist, anti-democratic movements, while conceding that climate change is now a decisive political issue, particularly for young Germans.

In this era of impatience and instant gratification, Merkel urged the graduates and alumni to consider why they’re making decisions, particularly around technology. As Chancellor, she said, she often herself whether she’s doing something because it is right or because it is right or because it is possible.

“That is something you, too, need to keep asking yourselves,” she said.

“Are we laying down the rules for technology, or is technology dictating how we act?”

Merkel suggested graduates take more time when thinking through decisions, a process that will require “courage and truthfulness” in how they deal with others.

“And perhaps most importantly, it calls for us to be honest with ourselves. What better place to begin to do so than here, in this place where so many young people from all over the world come to learn, research, and discuss the issues of our time under the maximum of truth?

That requires us not to describe lies as truth and truth as lies” she said, to a standing ovation.

Apparently, there are six main lessons to be learned from what Merkel had said:

  1. That change will come and nothing is impossible.
  2. With democracy and peace freedom could be achieved and prosperity will prevail.
  3. Being united will prevent us from returning to the eras of conflicts and wars.
  4. Human values should prevail and the privacies should be respected.
  5. We should not allow technology to control us.
  6. Life is distances between the beginnings and the ends.

In our beloved Sudan, if we concentrated on items 3 and for above we could come out from this dark tunnel.

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