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President Bortz, distinguished members of the faculty, trustees, dear fellow parents and guests, Ladies and Gentlemen and, of course, the reason we are all gathered here today, the class of 2003
It is always a pleasure to be back at Hampden-Sydney – but it is doubly so today on such a joyous occasion. Thank you for inviting me to share it with you. When I look at such a diverse group of talented young people, on the threshold of life, it is heartening to see you all so ready and eager to commence your professional life or continue your academic career on the basis of the degree you have earned here. You give us all hope for the future.
And, it is with pride and gratitude that I accept the honorary degree conferred upon me today. Like the diplomas the graduates are about to receive, it gives me a special sense of belonging to this fine seat of learning located in the very heart of Virginia and founded in the early years of your Republic.
An important part of the Hampden-Sydney tradition is to cultivate and uphold the values and principles laid down so long ago by the founders of this great land in your Constitution, your Bill of Rights – the documents which enshrine the essence of what America stands for. These principles have become part of the common heritage of our Western civilisation, of free men everywhere.
In my country, political liberty was founded somewhat later than in the United States, as a result of the European upheavals in the middle of the 19th century when many nations struggled to achieve the freedom and democracy they strived for.
As you may know, in addition to being Prime Minister of Denmark, I am the leader of the political party which was the driving force in the struggle for political liberty in Denmark in the 19th century. From the very beginning my party valued individual liberty, the freedom of the citizen to shape his or her personal destiny – and we still do. The role of the state is to guide – but never oppress.
We all know Lord Acton’s saying: “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Oppressive rulers who gain absolute power always want more power. Rulers who get away with oppressing their own people often go one step further and become aggressive against other states.
The American constitution is a prime example of a mechanism by which citizens of a nation prevent their rulers from ever gaining absolute power. Just as citizens of a nation state need such a mechanism we need a mechanism to keep aggressive rulers in check on the international scene.
Iraq is a prime example. Its irresponsible and aggressive behaviour - over many decades - set these rules aside. Something had to be done. The rules had to be enforced. And the military coalition, assembled by the United States, stepped into the breach and enforced them.
The purpose of the coalition was to put a stop to reckless and illicit armaments programmes and to the ruthless and despotic regime which was responsible for them.
Denmark is proud to be part of that coalition. My government has consistently supported the legitimacy and the necessity of taking action against Saddam Hussein. This was clearly the right and only thing to do.
I am also very proud of the continued close cooperation between the Danish Armed Forces and their American brothers-in-arms. For Iraq is not the first example of our friendship and cooperation. We have previously worked together to quench the flames of ethnic hatred in the Balkans. And, together, we faced the forces of international terrorism last year, in the mountains of Afghanistan.
The swift and precise operation in Iraq was truly impressive to behold. A job well done in every respect. Obviously, every life sacrificed was irreplaceable and must be deeply regretted. Every injury suffered has been painful. Our sympathy goes to the bereaved families in this country, in Britain and in Iraq. A life lost can never be replaced.
But while we regret the loss of life, we cannot fail to believe that the end result, a free and democratic Iraq, will enrich the lives of all its citizens.
Of course, much remains to be done. Iraq is a large country blessed with plentiful natural resources and a talented population with a tradition of seeking higher education. But right now it needs help to find its feet, its new direction. Iraqi society needs to be rehabilitated following decade after decade of totalitarian rule and many years of crippling international sanctions, exacerbated by the policies of the deposed government.
And Denmark is prepared to play its part in assisting in the stabilisation and reconstruction of Iraq. We will be found at the side of the United States, the United Kingdom and other like-minded nations in this challenging and demanding enterprise. We know it will be no easy task. Neither for us nor for the Iraqi people.
I believe that the reconstruction of Iraq is about more than aiding that country alone. Our world contains hotbeds of extremism, and we are faced with the major task of bringing greater freedom, democracy and prosperity to those regions of the world threatened by this scourge.
Which brings me back to our values and principles. If we are to make the world a secure and peaceful place in which to live, we must aim high.
Together, we must work for the freedom for all individuals and all nations to shape their own destinies, while observing the right of others to do the same.
In to-day’s increasingly interconnected world, we have become mutually dependent on each other to a totally unprecedented degree. We all hold stakes in the outcome of world developments, whether they occur in Iraq, Denmark or here, in Virginia.
So, class of 2003,
The challenges faced by the international community are also challenges facing each and every one of you. Occupied as you are with your studies and daily lives, you are still directly affected. Even distant events can touch you immediately and personally. As many have learned in recent years.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. And neither are freedom and democracy. These things take time. The tasks ahead are for the long term. They will last throughout your lifetime, and cannot be solved by quick fixes. Life is a journey, and you are all a part of it. The world needs your knowledge, your readiness to serve and take decisive action, and if necessary, your will to make sacrifices.
I know that during your studies here at Hampden-Sydney, you have been taught the skills necessary for advancing your ambitions in life. But let your ambition include the lives of others. Live up to the responsibilities you all share as members of the world community.
Your years spent here, have filled you with a spirit that will guide you well as you face the tough demands ahead of you.
That spirit includes a healthy dose of patriotism. You have every reason to be proud of your great nation and all it stands for. For the world needs a strong and outward looking United States to safeguard peace and liberty - wherever they are threatened.
In Denmark we know that. We will never forget how American soldiers liberated us from the Nazis and kept the Communists at bay during the Cold War.
Denmark has a long standing relationship with the United States. In fact Denmark has maintained diplomatic relations with the United States since 1791 – longer than any other country.
Today we stand united on a common platform of values and interests upheld by the heritage we share. We serve the same cause.
I hope and believe that this will still be the case when your generation assumes its responsibilities and takes over the reins, both here and in likeminded countries such as my own.
And, as an honorary member of your class, I will always feel a special bond. Which only leaves me to say I warmly congratulate you on your achievement and wish you well wherever your future may bring you.
I am sure you will all go far.
Thank you for your attention.