As Ohio State’s record-breaking spring class of 2019 awaited their diplomas, they were presented with a challenge from commencement speaker Fareed Zakaria: to use the next phase of their life as an opportunity to help change the polarizing political rhetoric that currently exists in the United States.
Zakaria, an author and journalist for CNN and The Washington Post, reminded the 12,213 graduates of their approaching decision of choosing where to reside and who to surround themselves with. He spoke about the importance of welcoming diversity into their inner circles as well as the importance of public service.
President Michael V. Drake introduced Zakaria to the crowd.
“The riches of his experiences and the depth of his ideas exemplify a lifelong dedication to learning and a life full of curiosity. Qualities we seek to instill in all of our students,” Drake said.
Dismayed by the growing tendency for people to create their own demographics by forming communities based on common ideologies, Zakaria examined frequent circumstances in which this occurs and how to navigate around it.
“Politics in America has become tribal and tethered to a sense of identity,” Zakaria said. “I do think it is now urgent to ask the question, ‘What can we do to come together?’”
While Zakaria was adamant that he didn’t have the answer to that question, he proposed that a place to start is public service.
“Imagine if young Americans from all parts of the country, social classes and backgrounds, at some point in their 20s were required to do a year of public service,” Zakaria said. “They would share with all their fellow Americans this common experience of citizenship.”
Zakaria also said the graduates should prioritize conversations at the most basic level.
“We all need to get out of our echo chambers and talk to each other and respect one another,” he said. “We must all listen and empathize more, judge and condemn less — online, in print and in person.”
Zakaria referenced a biblical principle he said was present in most religions that emphasizes the importance and simplicity of “[treating] others as you would like to be treated yourself.”
“This notion takes on a modern urgency because in our meritocratic age, we can easily slip into the belief that we deserve our status in life,” Zakaria said.
Zakaria emphasized the reality of everyone being equal regardless of education, social status or wealth, as well as the importance of remembering that sentiment.
“Let us never forget that in a profound sense, we are all equal in the eyes of God, and we are certainly equals as citizens of this republic,” Zakaria said.
To conclude his address, Zakaria reminded the graduating class of the importance of their parents and how special that relationship is.
“You will never understand how much your parents love you until you have children of your own,” Zakaria said. “Once you do, all their strange, sometimes aggravating behavior — the calls, the emails, the texts, the unsolicited advice — will all strike you as understandable, acceptable and totally normal — because you will be doing it yourselves.”
Zakaria ended his speech just as he started it — with a challenge for the graduating class to give thanks to their parents and express their love, as he believes he waited too long to do so.