Live long and prosper

Ho avuto l’occasione di tenere, lo scorso 9 giugno, un discorso ai diplomandi dei master presso l’Università St. John’s a Roma, in qualità di alumnus. Nel discorso ho voluto ricordare i temi della dignità e del rispetto per ogni essere umano che devono informare l’azione di ciascuno di noi e ho citato l’esempio straordinario di Salvatore Cimmino. Di seguito  il testo.

On June 9th I had the opportunity to give a speech at the Rome Commencement Exercises at St. John’s University to the 2019 MA and MBA graduates. As an alumnus, I wanted to underline the issues of dignity and respect for each human being in our everyday activity and I focused on the extraordinaty example by Salvatore Cimmino. The following is my ceremony address.


President Gempesaw, Fr. Tracey, Deans Fagen and Passerini, faculty, administration, and graduates, buona sera, good evening.

I am truly honored to be here today at St. John’s University Graduate Commencement Exercises in Rome. I’m very happy to be back as the alumni speaker, as you already heard from Fr. Tracey, I received my MA in Government and Politics in 2000, which feels like ages ago! So thank you all for this opportunity.

I must be frank. When I was contacted by the administration here at St. John’s – thank you again, Dr. Gempesaw, Nunzia and Maggie – I immediately said yes. I was touched. Excited. And happy. After all, I had such a good time here, so why not?

The sheer terror came later. I had only one question in my head: what am I going to say? advice? encouragement? directions? Desperation started to overwhelm me: knowing that I was facing the longest 10 minutes of my life. Then, one day, I had an idea. Eureka, someone could say! I will start with a question. And that is exactly what I will do now.

The question, quite simply is the following: are you a Star Trek fan or a Star Wars fan?

Me, I am a Trekker. I have always been fascinated by the future Star Trek offered on TV, at cinemas and in comic books. I do like the Star Wars stuff, of course (now if you could please stop piling up movies, Mr. Lucas…), but the ideals Star Trek put on the table always seemed to me what human beings need to aspire to.

The Star Wars scenario is fun and exciting, but it continuously reminds me of Thomas Hobbes’ homo homini lupus kind of world, where the law comes from the Leviathan: we live in chaos and the best we can do is fight and move forward.

On the other hand, Kirk, Spock and Bones, travelling in space on their 5 years voyage – “to boldly go where no man has gone before” – are part of a multi-planetary organization which accepts and promotes the value of the basic human rights, where dignity of the person is fully respected, and diversity is an enriching element in society. Well, Probably Klingons do not fully agree with those views but, as they say, one step at the time.

Well, now that you are next to embark to your personal voyage to your own “final frontier”, after your hard work to get your MA or your MBA, I would like to urge you to ask yourself one question – and that is the second question in this speech: what are the values that I want to bring with me from now on?

What you have experienced here at St. John’s is something that will be with you during all your life. Many of you are probably believers. Some not. But the common ground we stand on is very clear to me: find your own way in life but never forget what really matters at the end of the day: respect, dignity, humanity.

I know very well we do not live in a perfect world. Far from it. There is a 16-year-old girl from Sweden who is travelling around the globe asking Governments – no, urging Governments – to stop playing with fire and make some serious steps to save this planet, the only one we have. Poverty and inequalities are some of the plagues we have not managed to eradicate yet. And if you skip through the pages of the Agenda 2030, approved by the UN General Assembly in 2015, you will realize how huge are the challenges we face globally. That is why I hope you will do your part in this game.

I hold no secrets for a happy life. Not at all. I only know that if you are here, you are some of the best qualified women and men around. That is a merit, no doubt about it, you have earned what you are about to get. But it is also a responsibility. I would bet that every and each one of you has plans. And you can and will contribute to your communities in your own, personal and invaluable way. Just do not forget to focus on what you are doing and what is the true meaning of what you are doing.

As for me, I have always wanted to work in the public sector. I am fascinated by the process through which an issue on the political agenda is transformed until it becomes a policy. From idea to action. And I have always worked in social policies, on the rights of children, families, women, persons with disabilities. I love that. And I have met so many extraordinary people travelling around the world because of my job but the one who struck me the most is Salvatore Cimmino. Salvatore is Italian, is 54 and when he was 15 he had his left leg amputated because of a tumor. He had many health problems because of his disability. It was not easy. Then, when he was 41, following his doctor’s advice, he began to swim. Now he works out every day and participates to competitions all over the globe: 54 Kms at the NYC Swimming Marathon in 2014 – that is when I met him at a UN meeting – and 60 Kms in the lake Kivu in Congo, just to name a couple. Is this something?

Well, that is where I find meaning in what I do: do my part to protect and promote the rights of the most vulnerable people around and learn from the, if I can. Zygmunt Baumann, who died in 2017, wrote that a society is like a bridge, supported by chains, and that the strength of the bridge comes from how strong is the weakest ring of the weakest chain. If we protect that ring, society will endure. If not, it will crumble.

So, that is my thing: I do not want society to crumble. What is yours? Why have you worked your way out to be here today and listen to someone blabbering about Star Trek?

I do not know what you are going to do tomorrow, and I am wishing you the best, of course. My only piece of advice is this: when you go back home after work, when the weekend finally arrives and you can relax with the ones you love, and at every other important turning point in your life, never stop watching right in the mirror and ask to yourselves: what have I done today to make this world a better world? It is a tough question and there will be times you will not like the answer. But never stop asking.

That is your responsibility. That is our responsibility.

Thank you, grazie.

Live long and prosper!


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