Stanford International Relations Commencement Speech by Hanna Tyson ‘17

The following is a speech written by Hanna Tyson, International Relations ’17, who was selected as a student speaker at the International Relations (IR) diploma ceremony on June 18, 2017, at Stanford University.

There’s a common misconception that on a study abroad experience, we don’t learn much. That we spend an entire quarter on a vacation in a foreign country — it’s not true. In the fall of last year, I went to Madrid. While a significant portion of my time was spent stuffing Spanish ham in my face, taking two hour siestas after lunches and walking leisurely around the streets of Madrid, the more significant portion of my time was dedicated to understanding the country that I was in and the issues it was facing.

On a leisurely walk through the city, I noticed a large banner hung on the Madrid City Council Building. It read, “Bienvenidos los refugiados.” Refugees welcome. In 2015, one million people left their homes to find better lives in Europe. Despite the fact that 84% of these individuals came from nations experiencing violent conflict, many people faced extreme prejudice when they entered the European Union. Situated in a country and continent facing a refugee crisis, I felt helpless and outraged. Outraged that people who were simply trying to protect themselves weren’t receiving the help and respect that is due to all human beings.

As students of International Relations, we have all been outraged by something. An election. A civil war. A peacekeeping mission. A colonizer’s history. These feelings of frustration and anger are what moves us to study these topics, to go into fields where we can make a difference.

Unfortunately, in a world of outrageous issues and serious problems, it can often be easy to allow ourselves to stop paying attention and lose our outrage. It’s difficult to continue fueling our collective fires for our causes because there is so much to fight for that sometimes it seems like our entire worlds are ablaze. However, we sit here today because we are the ones who won’t look away.

In our time as Stanford undergraduates, a lot has happened internationally and domestically. We celebrated the US government finally legalizing gay marriage on June 26, 2015. We cried at the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, and as the Black Lives Matter movement was born, many of us marched in protests. We saw the Islamic State terrorist group overtake parts of Syria and Iraq, and we watched horrified as its violence spread in attacks across the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America. We stood in solidarity with those protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, fighting for protection of land, water and sacred religious sites of Native Americans. We were stunned as Britain voted to leave the European Union. And many of us spent the evening of November 7th afraid for what the most divisive US election in history would mean for our futures.

Hanna Tyson received her diploma from former Secretary of State and Professor of Political Science Condoleezza Rice.

It is both a frightening and exciting time to be alive. Frightening because like so many generations before us, we are dealing with grave problems and uncertain outcomes. Though we can use history as a tool to explain what’s to come and we can debate whether or not actors in our world are rational, in the end, no matter how we can project the future, it is subject to change and the issues we face persist. And yet, in spite of the complex conflicts we face, it is an exciting time to be alive. First because we live in a world blessed with the technological tools that allow us to understand what’s happening across the world in Eritrea, Azerbaijian, South Korea. Social media has empowered entire countries and given voices to those who previously did not have outlets to be heard by the global community. We live in a time where we can hear those voices. We can cry, laugh and fight in solidarity.

It’s also an exciting time to be alive because of where we are in our lives. We have been blessed and privileged with an education that sends us out into the world with the tools to address at least some of these complicated issues. Through the International Relations core, we have sought to understand some of the conflicts that exist in our world. We’ve participated in 48 hour crisis simulations that some of us took way too seriously. We all studied abroad. We learned second languages. And yet, the most important thing we share is a love for people in the world and the issues they face. We are all outraged by something.

It is the passion we find for the issues we care about that makes us come alive.

We must never forget this outrage, never be afraid to confront our own ignorances (of which we all have many simply because the world is BIG and we as individuals are small). Because of our privileged education, we have a responsibility to go forth into our respective spheres (be that banking, public service, academia, or soul searching for the next right step) and use what we know to create the world we want to live in. We must continue to learn, continue to seek new perspectives and to push ourselves. We must try to hold onto our outrage as it indicates the presence of a global injustice and is what drives us towards awareness, action and change.

And alongside that very heavy responsibility, we must aim to lead very happy lives.

Whether we end up living abroad or at home, it is my wish for the graduates of the class of 2017 to remember that we’ve not only been given the gift of education, but the gift of the ability to lead very good lives. Do not sacrifice what is most important to you, fight hard for the things you know are right. Love big, maintain your dreams and be in love with every minute of your life.

Congratulations to the class of 2017!

Fore more information about Stanford University’s 126th Commencement, click here.