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The biggest opportunities and greatest challenges for this generation will come from a “world of interconnections,” International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde told Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) students in her graduation address Wednesday (May 23).
Lagarde delivered her remarks before the 2012 HKS graduating class and family members in the John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, adjacent to the Kennedy School campus.
“We stand at the entrance of a new world – a whole new way of living, of communicating, of crossing, sometimes ignoring borders,” Lagarde said. “This is a great paradox of our age. The world gets bigger, with so many more people and places sharing the fruits of knowledge and prosperity. But the world also gets smaller – with so many more people and places crossing paths and sharing destinies.”
The number of people traveling from country to country is exploding, Lagarde said. In 2010, there were 900 million international tourists, compared to 25 million in 1950. There were 200 million migrant workers in the world last year. And in some countries, like Australia and Switzerland, foreigners make up to a quarter of the workforce in some professions.
“Borders, barriers, walls have come down to allow this degree of interconnection. And yet … you know that there are many more walls that are being built or that people try to build -- physical walls, political walls, mental walls.”
And there is a worrying disconnect, Lagarde said, between this great interconnection and the fragmentation of global governance.
“Reconciling these interconnections and their benefits together with governments with a view to making it better … will be a real challenge in the years to come,” she said. “It will be your challenge.”
“Which is why it will be so important, in my view, to be global citizens, to continue this work in progress of that interconnected world,” Lagarde continued. “Because that world, which is full of opportunities, is also full of great challenges and uncertainties.”
Lagarde urged students to challenge themselves and to work in the public interest, regardless of what career they will choose.
“This is a moment where you have really reached the top of the mountains and you can bask in the view and in its glory,” she said. “But rest assured, there will be many more mountains to climb.”
She told students that while their paths will now take different directions, they will have something in common.
“You will all, in your own way, be advancing the public interest. You will all have different destination, but you will have one overarching goal: making it better,” she said.
Lagarde, the 11th managing director of the IMF, worked with the international law firm Baker McKenzie for nearly 25 years before joining the French government in 2005. In 2007 she became finance minister.
She interspersed her speech with her personal experiences and her thoughts on the value of challenging limitations.
In her case, she said, these limitations were often related to her gender. She described how, after finishing law school, she was offered a job but told she would never, as a woman, be allowed to make partner.
“I thanked them, walked out the door and never looked back,” she said. “Tough luck; they did not deserve me!”
Lagarde went on to become the first female finance minister of a G7 country and the first female managing director of the IMF. (“The first woman,” she said, “but most assuredly not the last.”)
Finally she offered graduates the two major lessons she had learned in life.
“The first lesson: Be prepared for change, embrace it, and don’t take anything for granted. The opportunities available to you in this dazzling world will be many. Take advantage of that,” she said.
“The second lesson: Always stand up for your values and your principles and your ideals,” she said. “But pick your fights.”
“And so go forward, embrace the world, change the world. Shape your own future and our common global future. Keep up, and when the world says, 'give up,' don’t forget that hope whispers: 'try one more time.'"