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Fareed Zakaria At Harvard Commencement: We Live In An Age Of Progress (VIDEO)

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Harvard

Fareed Zakaria told graduates at Harvard University he was happy to receive a degree from the school in person, 19 years after he earned a Ph.D.

Zakaria, CNN host and Editor at Large of Time magazine, was the commencement speaker for Harvard's 2012 ceremony. He admitted he celebrated a bit too much the night before his undergrad commencement at Yale University and slept through most of the ceremony. Zakaria said he went to Harvard for graduate school, but took a job in New York before he had finished his Ph.D. He still graduated, but had to get his degree in the mail.

"So, 19 years later," Zakaria said, "it is a great honor to receive, in person, a Harvard degree."

After speaking about his personal background, Zakaria talked about what he saw as the state of the world that the class of 2012 is inheriting, and painted a fairly optmistic picture.

Read an excerpt from Fareed Zakaria's speech:

The best commencement speech I ever read was by the humorist Art Buchwald. He was brief, saying simply, “Remember, we are leaving you a perfect world. Don’t screw it up.”

You are not going to hear that message much these days. Instead, you’re likely to hear that we are living through grim economic times, that the graduates are entering the slowest recovery since the Great Depression. The worries are not just economic. Ever since 9/11, we have lived in an age of terror, and our lives remain altered by the fears of future attacks and a future of new threats and dangers. Then there are larger concerns that you hear about: The Earth is warming; we’re running out of water and other vital resources; we have a billion people on the globe trapped in terrible poverty.

So, I want to sketch out for you, perhaps with a little bit of historical context, the world as I see it.

The world we live in is, first of all, at peace — profoundly at peace. The richest countries of the world are not in geopolitical competition with one another, fighting wars, proxy wars, or even engaging in arms races or “cold wars.” This is a historical rarity. You would have to go back hundreds of years to find a similar period of great power peace. I know that you watch a bomb going off in Afghanistan or hear of a terror plot in this country and think we live in dangerous times. But here is the data. The number of people who have died as a result of war, civil war, and, yes, terrorism, is down 50 percent this decade from the 1990s. It is down 75 percent from the preceding five decades, the decades of the Cold War, and it is, of course, down 99 percent from the decade before that, which is World War II. Steven Pinker says that we are living in the most peaceful times in human history, and he must be right because he is a Harvard professor.

The political stability we have experienced has allowed the creation of a single global economic system, in which countries around the world are participating and flourishing. In 1980, the number of countries that were growing at 4 percent a year — robust growth — was around 60. By 2007, it had doubled. Even now, after the financial crisis, that number is more than 80. Even in the current period of slow growth, keep in mind that the global economy as a whole will grow 10 to 20 percent faster this decade than it did a decade ago, 60 percent faster than it did two decades ago, and five times as fast as it did three decades ago.

The result: The United Nations estimates that poverty has been reduced more in the past 50 years than in the previous 500 years. And much of that reduction has taken place in the last 20 years. The average Chinese person is 10 times richer than he or she was 50 years ago — and lives for 25 years longer. Life expectancy across the world has risen dramatically. We gain five hours of life expectancy every day — without even exercising! A third of all the babies born in the developed world this year will live to be 100.

All this is because of rising standards of living, hygiene, and, of course, medicine. Atul Gawande, a Harvard professor who is also a practicing surgeon, and who also writes about medicine for The New Yorker, writes about a 19th century operation in which the surgeon was trying to amputate his patient’s leg. He succeeded — at that — but accidentally amputated his assistant’s finger as well. Both died of sepsis, and an onlooker died of shock. It is the only known medical procedure to have a 300 percent fatality rate. We’ve come a long way.

To understand the astonishing age of progress we are living in, you just look at the cellphones in your pockets. (Many of you have them out and were already looking at them. Don’t think I can’t see you.) Your cellphones have more computing power than the Apollo space capsule. That capsule couldn’t even Tweet! So just imagine the opportunities that lie ahead.


Watch the entire speech in the video above.

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