05/10/2013 03:14 pm ET Updated Jul 10, 2013

Tragedy, 'Likeness,' and the Importance of Global Education

The number of defining tragedies taking place in our nation seems to be at no end, with the Marathon bombings in Boston the most recent example. And with each sadness, we remain at a loss on how best to respond.

Like many of my fellow college presidents, I immediately sent out a note of condolence to our campus community the evening of April 15, offering thoughts and prayers for those families who lost loved ones and for all those injured.

Although Centre College is located in the central Kentucky Bluegrass region, we have a sizable number of students from Boston and Massachusetts, so I encouraged our campus community to be especially supportive of each other during the next several days. We need to pull together, not apart, I suggested, and particularly as we begin to learn more about the details of this terror. Too many folks will be looking for vengeance, I added, but we should and must choose to look for ways to have this tragedy make us be better, be stronger, be of greater courage.

Within a few days, I was on a plane with my wife, Susie, headed to Asia. While visiting Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Yamaguchi, Japan (home of our Centre-in-Japan program), I continued to reflect on the tragedy in Boston. Since our trip represented an opportunity to do what 85 percent of our students do -- study abroad -- I particularly thought about the Marathon bombings from this lens of global citizenship.

Being abroad -- even for a short, intense trip like this one -- reminded me of why a commitment to global citizenship is so important, so right for these times. Centre's commitment to bringing international students to our campus and sending our students to places far away provides the chance to understand better and therefore to appreciate better the wonder of this world, its different cultures, and its peoples.

Even in the face of tragedy, the trip clarified for me that there is good reason for optimism about the future.

Though the horrible things that do happen in our nation and our world can cause one, understandably, to wonder whether things can improve, I claim that they can and will be better because we are more alike than different. And an important part of understanding and affirming our "likeness" requires that we come and go and learn and know.

On all our trips, Susie and I see firsthand that people across this world -- with their many different languages and cultures and religions and food and traditions and habits -- hope and pray for peace. They play and laugh and tease. They work hard for and dream of better opportunities for their children.

As we finally touched down in Kentucky, traversing the nearly 10,000 miles that separate Yamaguchi from Danville, I realized why the trip mattered so much. It reminded Susie and me that there is good reason to remain optimistic and hopeful about what we might make of this world -- even yet -- and that education remains an essential component by which to discover our common humanity.

When others seem certain that misunderstanding and hate will prevail, we must answer back by affirming our likeness, our goodness, and our courage.