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Commencement Addresses

The Challenges of Globalization

  • Date: 12/16/2000
  • Author: Dr. Luis M. Proenza (President, The University of Akron)
  • Location: UA Commencement (a.m.), E. J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall
  • Ladies and gentlemen, members of the class of 2000, we continue today an ancient tradition of assembling in formal convocation to recognize those who have reached significant milestones on the road to knowledge and accomplishment.

    And so we are gathered for this commencement together with graduates in the arenas of arts and sciences, fine and applied arts, nursing, and community service and technology.

    With no small measure of effort and self-discipline, each of you has learned to apply critical thinking and to use new information and technologies.

    And, you have discovered that learning is a continuous and exciting process, and that life's experiences will continue to instruct you along the way.

    And so you are now poised to go out there, into the "real world," as they say.

    For many of you, this will be a seamless transition, as you have been working out there in that real world while pursuing your degrees.

    But for all of you, it may help just a little bit if you take just one last lesson, and this one is from me.

    Let me tell you a story as a preface to that lesson.

    Two business executives are returning home after a trip to one of their company's offices abroad. As you might expect, they are traveling in the first class cabin of a major airliner.

    After their meal is served, their discussion becomes a series of reflections, and after a while one turns to the other and says:

    "You know, I have finally figured out what this global economy is all about."

    "Do tell me," says his friend.

    "It's like this," says the first: "I am finally going to get paid what I am worth! And I am scared to death about it!"

    As you know, much is being said of the new economy . . . of a global, knowledge economy of the 21st Century. And, the story I just told you serves as a useful starting point for the fact that in a global economy, it is individual knowledge that is valued and rewarded the world over.

    And, increasingly, that knowledge may well belong to anyone, anywhere around the world. So all of us had better be on our toes and stay abreast of new knowledge and how its fits into a global context.

    Ironically, however, we in America are often out of touch with critical events around the world, if not also those within our country. We may not have missed the events relating to the presidency since Election Day, but we certainly are largely unaware of all but the most salient national or international events.

    How many of us can name the leaders of more than a handful of countries?

    How many of us are aware of the critical happenings in more than one or two countries?

    Do you know even the major issues in Canada or Mexico, our nearest neighbors?

    Students from other countries come in great numbers to study in America, while few U.S. students take advantage of international, study-abroad opportunities; and even fewer still learn a second or third language. (Some might argue that many of us do not know English either!)

    In an increasingly global economy, we Americans are globally inept!

    Just a few years ago, Thomas Friedman, a writer for The New York Times, toured a high-tech, robotics-based assembly line system at a Lexus automotive factory in Japan, which made quite an impression on him.

    Shortly thereafter, he read a news article about the latest conflict in the Middle East.

    As he reflected on these two events, he concluded that even though half the world wished it could have a Lexus and the technology that makes it, the other half was still arguing over who owned which olive tree. And thus, he crafted the title of his recent and popular book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree.
    (Thomas L. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization, 2000)

    To Friedman, the Lexus represents globalization and the post-war era, while the olive tree signifies the historical and place-bound roots of cultures and individuals.

    But, if given the choice, which would you take - a new Lexus luxury car or an olive tree?

    The answer may seem simple and obvious to you, but is it really a choice?

    Ask yourself what you would not give up in order to have a Lexus. Conversely, ask yourself what happens if you cling too tightly to the metaphorical olive tree.

    Globalization is the newest frontier of our civilization, yet few understand what globalization is all about.

    Simply put, globalization is a process by which the peoples of the world are moving increasingly towards one another. And it is a process that is rapidly beginning to affect everything we do.

    Indeed, Globalization involves many dimensions, which characterize the movement of our civilization away from the parochial and toward the global or universal.
    (O.B. Hardison, Jr., Disappearing Through the Skylight: Culture and Technology in the Twentieth Century, 1989)

    Dimensions that involve the vast array of technological change, our movement to a global economy, and the pervasiveness of new information tools . . . all creating for us radically new sets of capabilities, and the kind of social adjustments so well articulated by Peter Drucker in his Atlantic Monthly magazine article entitled The Age of Social Transformations (Peter Drucker, Atlantic Monthly, The Age of Social Transformations, 1994).

    Just think about your own experience. About how, in your own lifetime, technology has affected what you do today, what you have yet to learn, and how rapidly other things are looming onto your radar screens.

    In his new book, The Global Me, G. Pascal Zachary argues that globalization is making it "possible to have both 'roots' and 'wings' - to develop meaningful affiliations without renouncing one's origins."
    (As reviewed by Alex Soonjung-Kim Pang, Atlantic Monthly, November, 2000, p. 118-119)

    Since globalization transcends national boundaries, these affiliations are characterized by "hybridization" -- transnational partnerships and expertise, expanded and workable skills in several languages, and in-depth knowledge of other cultures.

    In other words, globalization is making it possible for you to own a Lexus and park it under your olive tree.

    It is important for us to realize, however, that the terms "globalization" and "internationalization," although often used interchangeably, actually refer to very different phenomena that are, in reality, ". . . actually opposed."
    (Journal of Studies in International Education, Globalization and Higher Education: Challenges for the 21st Century, Spring 2000, p.4)

    Peter Scott, of Kingston University in London, argues that "Internationalization reflects a world-order dominated by nation states."
    (Journal of Studies in International Education, Globalization and Higher Education: Challenges for the 21st Century, Spring 2000, p.4)

    Globalization, on the other hand, transcends international borders and political subdivisions. Globalization reflects the rise of market capitalism around the world, and involves an "intensified collaboration" as well as "a global division of labor."

    According to Scott, "Globalization implies a radical reordering of the status quo..."
    (Journal of Studies in International Education, Globalization and Higher Education: Challenges for the 21st Century, Spring 2000, p.4)

    He believes that "The forces of globalization are refashioning not only economic structures and lifestyles; they are also challenging the authority of the nation state (in which so many of our notions of civic and democratic rights are embedded); they are penetrating deeply into the private world of informal associations, communities, families - and even deeper still, into the intimate world of personal identity."
    (Journal of Studies in International Education, Globalization and Higher Education: Challenges for the 21st Century, Spring 2000, p.3)

    A recent issue of Business Week magazine reports, likewise, that globalization could well become the great equalizer. "(It) has created millions of jobs from Malaysia to Mexico and a cornucopia of affordable goods for Western consumers. It has brought phone service to some 300-million households in developing nations and a transfer of nearly $2 trillion from rich countries to poor through equity, bond investments, and commercial loans. (Globalization) has helped topple dictators by making information freely available in once sheltered societies. And now the Internet is poised to narrow the commercial and cultural gulfs separating rich nations from poor even further in the decade to come."
    (Business Week, November 6, 2000, p 72-100)

    Indeed, science and technology speak the universal language that is the driving force behind globalization. By making possible the sharing of vast amounts of information virtually instantaneously, advances in telecommunications and computers offer the world unprecedented opportunities to increase the international standard of living.

    And while much of that information sharing is done in English, we should not assume that it will one day become the universal language, even though it is widely spoken throughout the world.

    Consider the fact that there are " . . . three times as many native speakers of Chinese as native speakers of English," says Barbara Wallraff in the November issue of Atlantic Monthly.
    (Atlantic Monthly, November 2000, p 52-66) (p55)

    Indeed, there are 15-times more people in the world whose native language is other than English!

    And we would do well to remember that each language is hardly the same across one nation or around the world. Those of you who traveled to Australia for the Olympics certainly learned that, where English is concerned.

    As the process of globalization advances, it will bring challenges and, as always, new opportunities.

    And in an increasingly complex and interdependent world, finding solutions to problems requires shared knowledge and understanding, and a shared commitment among all peoples of the world.

    For Globalization to be sustainable in the United States, we must be at our best. And the best is what you have been prepared to offer.

    Your educational experience at The University of Akron has given you the keys to the future.

    As for the keys to your Lexus, you are on your own . . . but you are on your way . . . and America is your Olive Tree.

    On behalf of the Trustees, the faculty, the staff and administration, your fellow students, and The University of Akron family everywhere - I salute you, the Fall 2000 graduates, together with your family and friends who have helped make your success possible.


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