Fareed Zakaria: 2012 Commencement Speaker at Harvard
By Sowmya Nandakumar
The host of CNN’s flagship foreign affairs show, Time Magazine’s Editor at Large, columnist for the Washington Post, and a New York Times best -selling author – Dr. Fareed Zakaria! On May 24, Dr. Zakaria delivered the 2012 commencement address at Harvard University.
In his speech he candidly admitted (much to the crowd’s amusement) that he almost slept through his undergrads commencement ceremony at Yale University because he had celebrated a little too much the night before. In the case of his doctoral degree in Harvard, he got a job in New York and could not get a day off to be present for commencement at Harvard. He had to receive his degree via the mail. He said that now, he was truly honored to be present at a Harvard commencement ceremony, 19 years after he had graduated.
In his address, he projected to the graduating class, a positive view of the world, and its current scenarios –he talked of a world filled with immense opportunity, peace, prosperity and overall human progress in all realms, clearly explaining and validating with data, exactly why he thought so. He touched upon several questions science and research had endeavored to answer over the last century, always achieving success in their quest. He traced with data the enormous progress the world has made over the last eight decades or so, in the realms of health, life expectancy, economic prosperity, human genome research, global peace, technological advancement, and even the global war against terrorism.
In the context of this all inclusive global evolution and development, he said, “Look at the number of graduates globally, from colleges – that number has risen four fold in the last forty years for men, it has risen seven fold for women. And if you are wondering whether or not that age old question of ‘are women smarter than men?’ has been answered, the evidence is now overwhelming; the answer is yes.” He said that he looked forward to a world, where, from the African villages to the corporate boardrooms of America, there will be greater participation by women, which will further enrich the world.
He also emphasized on how the world as a whole is much more stable and cooperative now in comparison to perhaps even five or six decades ago. Citing the USA’s approach towards the problem of the H1N1 virus outbreak in 2009, he highlighted how as a global society we have become a lot more responsive and reactive, and in general are able to cooperate, react, respond, and contain/address problems before they reached larger magnitudes.
As an immigrant, who has experienced tremendous success in this country, he said, “The United States is also a vital society. It is the only country in the industrialized world that is demographically vibrant. We add three million people to this country every year, that is itself a powerful life force and it is made stronger by the fact that so many of these people are immigrants. They, I should say, we, come to this country with aspirations, with drive, with determination, and we develop a fierce love of this country. America in 2050 will have a better demographic profile than China. This country has its problems but I’d rather have America’s problems than most other countries in the world”.
As he wrapped up, he told the audience that he was not going to be able to tell them which route to take in terms of their decisions for future study, career’ etc. but, “human beings will always reward those talents of heart and mind that they have always rewarded for thousands of years – intelligence, hard work, discipline, courage, perhaps above all, love and faith”. These are the profound life traits that result in rewarding and satisfying lives. He told students that they did not need an ethics class to teach them what was right or wrong; they already, intrinsically knew what was right or wrong, it was only a matter of tapping into that existing resource within to make life’s decisions.
As a final word of advice, he said, he did not know this from books but from life experience, that one can never understand how much parents love them until one becomes a parent! He told students not to wait that long to understand their parents’ love for them and instead to take the commencement day as an opportunity to let their parents know how much they are loved.
It is an absolute honor to the Indian diaspora community that Fareed Zakaria, an American of Indian origin, was the commencement speaker at his Alma Mater, Harvard University! Zakaria was born on Jan 20, 1964 in Bombay, (now Mumbai), to a Konkani Muslim family. His mother, Fatima Zakaria, worked as editor of the Sunday Times of India, for a while, and his father, Rafiq Zakaria was an Islamic scholar, and a politician linked to the Indian National Congress.
Zakaria went to the Cathedral and John Connon School in Mumbai. He came to the US with a scholarship to do his Bachelor of Arts at Yale University. During his under grad years, he was president of the Yale Political Union, editor-in-chief of the Yale Political Monthly, a member of the Scroll and Key society, and a member of the Party of the Right.
In 1992, during his Ph.D program, Zakaria directed a research project on American foreign policy, at Harvard, after which he became managing editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, when he was just 28 years old. He earned his doctoral degree in political science from Harvard University in 1993. In 1999 Esquire Magazine called him “the most influential foreign policy adviser of his generation.”
In Oct 2000, he took up the position of editor of Newsweek International. From 2002-2007, Zakaria was a news analyst with ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. He hosted the weekly TV news show, Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria on PBS from 2005–2008. In 2007, he was named one of the 100 leading public intellectuals in the world by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines. In June 2008, his weekly show, Fareed Zakaria GPS (Global Public Square) premiered on CNN. In January 2009, Dr. Zakaria was named one of the most influential liberals in the American media, by Forbes magazine. On March 20, 2009, he was awarded, the India Abroad, Person of the Year 2008. Mira Nair, the recipient of this award in 2007, presented it to Zakaria.
In 2010, Foreign Policy magazine named him one of the top 100 global thinkers. After spending 10 years with Newsweek, managing the magazine’s editions abroad, in Oct 2010, Dr. Zakaria was announced as TIME Editor at Large. That very year, the Government of India honored him with the Padma Bhushan for his contributions to the field of journalism.
In April 2011 he appeared as one of the guests on Jay Leno’s show where he said that he was the last Western journalist to have interviewed the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and he shared his political views on Gaddafi and the American intervention in Libya. He also mentioned in this show that he initially thought that he was cut out to be an academic but realized that wasn’t the case and moved on. This definitely seems to have been the right decision in retrospect!
Dr. Zakaria has received several honorary degrees from universities including the University of Miami, Oberlin College, Bates College, Brown University, Harvard University, and Johns Hopkins University. He now lives in New York City (in the Jay Leno show he confesses to being completely at home in NYC because it resembles his home town, Mumbai), with his wife, Paula Throckmorton Zakaria, son Omar, and daughters Lila and Sofia. He is a New York Times best-selling author, and has written The Future of Freedom and The Post American World.
For Zakaria’s 2012 Commencement Address at Harvard, visit: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/multimedia/fareed-zakaria-commencement-2012-speech/