The Importance of Commitment

07/01/2011 11:28 am ET | Updated Aug 31, 2011

This post is adapted from a commencement speech given at Effat University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on May 14th, 2011.

It is a pleasure and privilege to be with you to celebrate and recognize the graduates of Effat University, and in particular, the first women to earn engineering degrees in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I extend to you heartfelt congratulations on your accomplishments built on focused and sustained study.

The Importance of Commitment

Earning a degree from Effat University isn't easy -- you know it takes hard work, discipline and commitment. Today, I want to talk about three kinds of commitment that have served me well in my life: a commitment to optimism, a commitment to kindness, and a commitment to community.

Commitment to Optimism

Let me begin with a commitment to optimism.

When I was 22, I wanted to be an Olympian, and I was training very hard for the U.S. National Field Hockey Team.

But then, just a few months after my college graduation, my doctor diagnosed me with Hodgkin's lymphoma. He told me that if things didn't go well, I would have just two years to live.

When the doctor told me the news, I literally felt like the walls were closing in on me... Then he said, "But if it's caught in the early stages, you have a good chance to live a normal life."

As soon as he said there was a chance, I knew I was going to live. I just knew it. I would have been shocked if I didn't...

Obviously I recovered and one of the lessons I learned was that being optimistic is a powerful tool, and like your diploma, it can crack open any door. And when combined with persistence -- if you keep pushing and pushing -- you can open that door.

I am a chronic optimist. Frankly, I can get a little obnoxious about it. But I don't apologize for that.

You are graduating into a world, where bad things can happen to good people. When they do, I'll hope you'll commit to staying persistent. And when you find yourself in dark moments, which you will, remember what Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "Only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars."

Commitment to Kindness

The second type of commitment I'd like to talk about is a commitment to kindness. You know, some people will tell you that nice guys finish last. And honestly, I don't know whom they're talking about. My bosses have been nice guys; President Obama is a nice guy.

At times you will be tempted to put yourself first. Sometimes you'll worry that if you don't, you won't succeed, you'll fall behind. At these moments, you'll have a choice to make. And I hope you choose to do something for someone else without expecting anything in return. In my view, that's the meaning of unconditional love.

Commitment to Community

And that brings me to the third type of commitment: a commitment to community. You are now entering the society of scholars, and in particular, the society of women scholars. Because whether its your fellow women graduates, your faculty, or graduates from other universities, we all share the same planet and we are responsible for their well-being too. One of my favorite quotes is by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright:

"There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."

Commit to supporting and advocating for women everywhere.

The Future

In thinking about this special night -- I am reminded of a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt:

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

Queen Effat University was founded on a beautiful dream and a vision that: "A society of uneducated women is dead."

Thank you Princess Loulwa for this quote, for your strong commitment and the commitment of your mother to educating women. Many individuals like you and the Dalai Lama believe that educated women will save the planet.

To the graduates -- I wonder in 30-40 years from now, when some of you in the audience are up here -- what will you see? Princess Loulwa -- I see the beauty of YOUR dream.

In closing, I've talked about commitment to optimism, kindness and to your new community of scholars. Most importantly, commit to believing in yourself. Because you can do anything you want to, and faith in yourself is a powerful ally.