[Original language translation via
AI (Google) and supplemental human modification.
Bacow, Fellows of the Corporation, Members of the Board of Overseers,
Members of the Alumni Board, Members of the Faculty, Proud Parents, and
Today is a day of joy. It's your day. Many congratulations. I am
delighted to be here today and would like to tell you about some of my
own experiences. This ceremony marks the end of an intensive and,
probably also, hard chapter in your lives. Now the door to a new life is
opening. That's exciting and inspiring.
The German writer
Hermann Hesse had some wonderful words
for such a situation in life. I'd like to quote him and then continue in
my native language. Hermann Hesse
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us
These words by Hermann Hesse inspired me when I completed my physics
degree at the age of 24. That was back in the year 1978.
The world was divided into
East and West. It was during of the Cold War. I grew up in East
Germany, in the GDR, at a time when that part of my homeland was not
free, in a
dictatorship. People were oppressed and monitored by the state. Political opponents
were persecuted. The government of the GDR was afraid that the people
would run away to freedom. And that's why the Berlin Wall was built. It
was made of concrete and steel. Anyone who was discovered trying to
overcome it was arrested or shot. This wall in the middle of Berlin
divided a people -- and it divided families. My family was divided too.
My first job after graduation was as a physicist in East Berlin at the
Academy of Sciences. I lived near the Berlin Wall. On the way home from
my institute I walked past it every day. Behind it lay West Berlin,
freedom. And every day, when I was very close to the wall, I had to turn
away at the last moment -- and head towards my apartment. Every day I had to turn
away from freedom at the last minute. I don't know how many times I thought, I
couldn't stand it anymore. It
was really frustrating.
I was not a dissident. I did not run up and bang against the wall, but
neither did I
deny its existence because I did not want to lie to myself. The Berlin Wall limited
my possibilities. It was literally in my way. But one thing that this
wall could not do in all these years: It could not impose limits on my own inner
My personality, my imagination, my yearnings -- these could not be
limited by prohibitions and coercion.
the year 1989. Throughout Europe, the shared will
unleashed incredible powers. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets
in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and the GDR. The people demonstrated
and brought down the wall. What many people had not thought possible --
even me -- became reality. Where once there had been a dark wall, a door
suddenly opened. The moment had come for me, too, to step through that
door. I did
not have to turn away from freedom at the last minute any longer. I could cross that
line and venture out into the great, wide open.
During these months, 30 years ago, I personally experienced that
nothing has to remain as it is. This experience, dear graduates, is the
first thought I would like to share with you today for your future: What seems fixed
and unchanging can in fact change.
And in matters both large and small, every change begins in the mind. The
generation of my parents had to learn this most painfully. My father and
mother were born in 1926 and 1928. When they were as old as most of you
here today, the rupture of civilization that was the Shoa [Holocaust] and the Second World War
had just ended. My country, Germany, had brought unimaginable suffering
Europe and the world. How likely would it have been for the victors and
the vanquished to remain irreconcilable for many years? But instead, Europe
overcame centuries of conflict. The result was a peaceful order based on
common values rather than supposed national strength.
Notwithstanding all the discussions
and temporary setbacks, I am firmly convinced that we Europeans have
united for the better. And the relationship between Germans and Americans shows how former
enemies in war can become friends.
It was George Marshall who gave a significant contribution to this with
which he proclaimed in this very place at a
Commencement Address in 1947. The transatlantic partnership with our values of
democracy and human rights has given us a time of peace and prosperity
to the benefit of all
that has lasted for over 70 years. And today? It will not be long now before the politicians of my generation
are no longer subject to the program of "Exercising Leadership," but at most
will be dealt with in "Leadership in History."
Dear Harvard Class of 2019: Your generation will face the challenges of the
21st century in the coming decades. You are among those who will lead
us into the future.
Protectionism and trade conflicts endanger free world trade and thus the
foundations of our prosperity. The digital transformation covers all areas of
Wars and terrorism lead to displacement and forced migration. Climate change
threatens our planet's natural resources. It and the resulting crises are caused by
humans. So we can and must do everything humanly possible to really get
this challenge to humanity under control. This is still possible. But everyone
has to do their part and -- I say this self-critically -- get better.
Therefore, I will do my utmost to ensure that Germany, my country, will
goal of climate neutrality by 2050.
Change for the better is possible if we tackle it together.
Going it alone, we will not succeed. And so this is my second thought for you:
More than ever we have to think and act multilaterally instead of
unilaterally, global instead of national, cosmopolitan rather than
isolationist. In short, together instead of alone.
You, dear graduates, will in the future have quite different
opportunities for this than my
generation did. After all, your smartphone probably has far more computing power than
the IBM mainframe replicated by the Soviet Union, which I was allowed to
use in 1986 for my dissertation in the GDR.
Today, we use Artificial Intelligence to scan millions of images for
symptoms of disease -- for example, to better diagnose cancer. In the
future, empathic robots could help doctors and caregivers to focus on
the individual needs of individual patients. We can not say what
applications will be possible, but the opportunities that come with [AI]
are truly breathtaking.
Class of 2019, it is essentially up to you as to how we will take advantage
of these opportunities. It will be you who will decide how our way of
working, communicating, moving, and even developing our way of life will
As Federal Chancellor, I often have to ask myself: Am I doing the right thing?
Am I doing something because it is right, or just because it's possible?
You should ask yourself that again and again -- and that is my third
thought for you today: Do we set the rules of technology or does
technology determine how we interact? Do we focus on people with their
dignity in all its many facets, or do we only see the customer, the
data sources, the objects of surveillance?
These are difficult questions. I have learned that answers to difficult
questions can be found if we always see the world through the eyes of
others; if we respect the history, tradition, religion, and identity of
others; if we firmly stand by our inalienable values and act
accordingly; and if we do not always follow our initial impulses, even with
all the pressure to make snap decisions, but instead stop for a moment, keep
quiet, think, take a break.
Of course, that takes a lot of courage. Above all, it requires being
truthful to others and perhaps most importantly to ourselves. Where better
to begin with it than here, in this place, where so many young people from
all over the world come to learn under the
motto of Truth
-- to do
research, and discuss the questions of our time? This implies that we do
not describe lies as truth and truth as lies.2
As well, it implies that we do not accept grievances as our normality.
But what, dear graduates, could stop you -- what could hinder us from
doing that? Again,
there are walls: walls in the mind, walls of ignorance and
narrow-mindedness. They exist between members of a family as well as
between social groups, between those of different skin colors, peoples, religions.3
I would like us
to break down these walls -- walls that repeatedly prevent us from
communicating about the world in which we want to live together.
Whether we succeed is up to us. Therefore, dear graduates, my fourth
thought is this: Take nothing for granted. Our individual freedoms are
not self-evident; democracy is not self-evident; neither is peace nor prosperity.
But if we tear down the walls4
that restrict us, if we open the door and
embrace new beginnings, then everything is possible. Walls can collapse.
Dictatorships can disappear. We can stop global warming. We can overcome
hunger. We can eradicate diseases. We can give people, especially girls,
access to education. We can fight the causes of displacement and forced
We can do all this.
So let us not ask first what is wrong or what has always been. Let
ask what is possible and look for something that has never been done
It was these exact words
I spoke in 2005 during my very first
policy statement, as the newly elected Federal Chancellor of the
Federal Republic of Germany, as the first woman in this office, in the
German Bundestag, the German Parliament.
And with these words I would like to share with you my fifth thought:
Let us surprise ourselves with what is possible -- let us surprise
ourselves with what we can do.
In my own life, it was the
fall of the Berlin Wall that allowed me to
step out into the open almost 30 years ago. At that time, I left behind my work as a
scientist and went into politics. It was an exciting and magical time,
just as your lives will be exciting and full of magic. But I also
had moments of doubt and worry. For we all knew what lay behind us, but not
what might lie ahead. Perhaps you're feeling a bit like that today
amidst all the joy of the occasion.
Therefore, as my sixth thought, I can also tell you this: The moment
you stand out in the open is also a moment of risk. Letting go of the old
is part of a new beginning. There is no beginning without an end, no day without
night, no life without death. Our whole life consists of this
difference, the space between the beginning and the ending. What's
in between, we call life and experience.
I believe that we must always be ready to finish things to feel the
magic of beginnings and to make the most of our opportunities. That was
my experience in study, in science, and it's what I have experienced in politics.
And who knows what's in store for me after life as a politician? It is
completely open. Only one thing is clear: It will again be something different
and something new.
That's why I want to leave this wish with you:  Tear down walls of
ignorance and narrow-mindedness, for nothing has to stay as it is.
It's six things [to remember]:
joint action in the interests of a multilateral global world.
asking yourselves: Am I doing something because it is right or simply
because it's possible?
Don't forget that freedom is never something
that can be taken for granted.
Surprise yourself with what is
Remember that openness always involves risks. Letting go of
the old is part of the new beginning.
And above all, nothing can be taken
for granted; everything is possible.