In the context of the School of Foreign Service’s centennial this year, Georgetown University professor and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told graduates that our society must remain committed to democracy, global engagement and international leadership at the school’s May 18 commencement ceremony.

The SFS, first founded in 1919, graduated its 99th cohort with the Class of 2019 this week. The school graduated 323 undergraduate and 423 graduate students in its commencement ceremony on Healy lawn Saturday evening.

With the return of extremism and border conflicts, reflecting on the last hundred years of the SFS in the context of its founding after World War I has become relevant for current graduates, according to Albright.

MAYA GANDHI/THE HOYA | Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke to the School of Foreign Service’s graduates as well as their family and friends at a commencement ceremony May 18. 

“In many ways this is the same reality that confronts you, the Class of 2019,” Albright said. “In the short history of this century we have seen technology and globalization once again redraw the borders of the world. We have seen a resurgence of extreme nationalism and a global retreat from democratic values.”

Albright rebuked the idea that the United States’ foreign policy has succeeded in the past out of luck, citing the U.S. leadership that occurred following World War II and the Cold War as one of the true characteristics of American foreign policy success.

“It was the rejection of terror, not luck, that liberated millions from concentration camps and created institutions to prevent a third major conflict,” Albright said. “It was leadership, not luck, that helped America bring nations together after the Cold War on core principles of democracy, free enterprise, human rights and rule of law.”

Albright served as the 20th U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 to 1997 and as the first female secretary of state from 1997 to 2001 under former President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68). Since 2016, Albright has served as the Michael and Virginia Mortara distinguished professor of diplomacy as part of the SFS’ Mortara Center for International Studies. She received the J. Raymond “Jit” Trainor Award for Excellence in the Conduct of Diplomacy from the university for her commitment to diplomacy and policy advocacy in a ceremony in February 2018.

The SFS has prepared graduating students to defend the basic principles of freedom and international cooperation in light of today’s global challenges, Albright said.

“These are not partisan questions, they speak to the fundamental values of this school and it is your fidelity to those values, not luck, that will shape the future, for we face a slew of threats from climate change to terrorism to weapons proliferation that cannot be addressed without cooperation among countries,” Albright said.

The future actions and choices of graduating students will determine the legacy of democracy, Albright said.

“Today I want to urge you to keep looking outward and to treat this as another clarifying moment in our history because a decade or two from now you can be known as neo-isolationists who allowed tyranny and lawlessness to rise again, or those who solidified the global triumph of democratic principles,” Albright said.

The SFS graduates must remember the school’s commitment to improve the world by taking action to protect the American people and building a stronger global community for future generations, according to Albright.

“You must remember that there is not a page of this institution’s hundred-year history of which we were proud of that was authorized by a chronic complainer — we are doers,” Albright said. “We have a responsibility to shape history, to build with others a global network of purpose and law that will protect our citizens, defend our interests and bequeath future generations a legacy as proud as one we celebrate today.”

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