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His Highness the Aga Khan's address at the Aiglon College Graduation Ceremony (Chesières, Switzerland)

Saturday, 2014, June 21
Aga Khan IV (H.H. Prince Karim)

Distinguished guests,

Thanks you Mr. McDonald for your very kind words, and for protecting me from eggs and tomatoes for having studied at Le Rosey.

Let me say what an honour and pleasure it is to share this important day with this graduating class, with your faculty, your parents, your alumni. I congratulate you most warmly for all your successes, not only in your academic endeavours but also in the many fields where you have demonstrated exceptional talent. In music and art, in drama and sports, and in so many other areas of endeavour.

The graduating class represents 26 nationalities, 14 mother tongues, and you’re due to enter 30 professional institutions. So you represent a genuine microcosm of our world. And it is about our world that I want to share some thoughts with you today, and the role that you can play within it.

There are many ways one could seek to characterise the global forces which are influencing human life at this time. But I thought I would share with you some reflections about my life’s experiences, and what I read, and see, and feel around me.

The issues I wish to address concern forces which are global. Some of them have been developing for many years, but they are now, perhaps, more powerful than at any previous time in human history. You, the graduands, will enter this world and engage with those forces and I hope that my comments this morning will ring true to you as you go forward.

At some point I might have thought that these comments, that I will make this morning, are those of an older person but I’m relieved to say that I have proof of the opposite.

So what am I talking about?

As I look around me, my deep sense is that today the strongest human force, sadly, is fear. This sentiment has multiple origins, many of which you have learned about and experienced directly. At this time, the United Nations Commission for Refugees believes that there are some 50 million people who are either refugees or internally displaced persons. Far more than ever before. Practically every one of them — women, men, children, the sick — have been touched by fear and many still live in fear. At no time in human history, has a percentage of human population living in fear and who has been uprooted, [been] as great as it is today. And this issue is affecting the whole of our world with all the consequences we see in the forms of emigration; immigration in the form of economic and political conflict — that’s the consequence of immigration; collision between faiths, within faiths; collisions amongst races. And the fear being felt by displaced peoples is often the trigger for fears among settled peoples. Their own stability is threatened. And there are too many people who are already exploiting this. As I said earlier, my perception of fear as being a dominant global force at this time might be seen as just my personal view, but more and more people are sharing it.

Some 20 years ago, the President of the World Bank and I attempted to achieve a better personal understanding of the causes of poverty, particularly in the developing countries. We commissioned a wide, multi-national survey; carried out thousands of questions. And we were trying to find out what we needed to do in order to address poverty around the world, and how to prioritise our decisions, our actions. To our very great surprise, the number one cause of poverty in the developing world at that time was fear. It was extensive fear in the rural areas, but also amongst the newly urbanised populations. It was fear of a micro-credit officer who would not extend a loan without a commission. It was fear of a school teacher who would fail a student unless he was paid by the parents. It was fear of the doctor who pretended to have been through medical school but had never gone to medical school. It was fear about the judge who took a commission in order to give an unjust decision. And that scope of fear went further. It was fear of the money lender, it was fear of city gangs, it was fear of the exorbitant property owner. One has to be aware that these forms of fear were anchored in human relations, but they extended also into the environment. The fear of drought, infected crops, landslides, earthquakes, and tidal waves.

So you may be asking yourselves, if fear is omnipresent — as I believe it is, what does that mean about the world in which the graduands of l’Aiglon will enter? And you will be asking yourselves how, as nano-players on the global scene, you could cause positive change to happen for yourselves, your families, your peoples. My answer is: hope. Fortunately, just as fear can be infectious, so hope is infectious.

When individuals and families and communities, or even nations, come together around new found hope — and this hope translates into perceptible, tactile improvements in the quality of life — that new momentum can be unstoppable. The smile replaces the frown. Conversation replaces silence. Fear of the future is replaced by confidence to respond to its challenges. This reversal from fear to hope is rooted in individuals, in the leadership that they provide to the overall impact of civil society.

[T]he actual process of replacing fear with hope rests with every individual in his or her society. And once individuals begin to express their own sense of hope and to act on a common outlook then they begin to discover a common cause that they can support.
Government and institutions must create an Enabling Environment in which hope can flourish. But the actual process of replacing fear with hope rests with every individual in his or her society. And once individuals begin to express their own sense of hope and to act on a common outlook then they begin to discover a common cause that they can support. They speak and sense the same issues and opportunities. And they can be come an enormous source of growing strength and reassurance for one another. I hope that that will happen to you.

This graduating class may secretly be sharing fears and hopes as I did myself when I graduated, so let me please conclude these short remarks by wishing you the greatest success in every one of your future endeavours, but please also give a small thought to the goal — in all that you do — of bringing hope, every where around you. You have extraordinary new tools with which to explore the world and to communicate with people in every corner of this world. You have access to a wealth of knowledge unknown previously in human history. And you have the educated minds to mobilise these new resources in an infinitely positive manner.

I wish you well.

His Highness the Aga Khan IV

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