John Kerry Tells Boston College Grads to ‘Set the World Aflame’

The Secretary of State told students that their citizenship is not only a privilege, but a profound responsibility to make change.

Photo via AP

Photo via AP

Secretary of State John Kerry urged Boston College’s 2014 graduating class to go forth into the world to do good deeds during a commencement speech at his alma mater on Monday morning.

Quoting St. Ignatius, Kerry said it’s the duty of graduates to take what they have learned during their time at the Jesuit school and spread it throughout the world as best they can. “Set the world aflame,” Kerry said, in a speech that touched on topics such as climate change and the devastation of war in underdeveloped countries across the world.

Keeping things light at the beginning of his address, before diving into politics and life advice, Kerry referenced conflicts not between warring countries—situations he deals with on a daily basis as an appointed government official—but rather disputes that occur in pop culture. “I track several rivalries around the world,” Kerry said. “Alec Baldwin versus the NYPD, Beyoncé’s sister versus Jay Z,” and of course, the Red Sox versus the Yankees.

The Secretary also took a potshot at Harvard University, saying despite the longtime tensions between Yale and Boston College, the two schools share a mutual disdain for the Cambridge Ivy League institution. “Although to be fair, hundreds of schools don’t like Harvard very much,” Kerry joked.

Shifting his speech toward more serious matters, Kerry said he felt like he was “home” returning to Massachusetts and to Boston College, where he graduated from the Law School nearly 40 years ago.

In coming home, he recognized the school’s welcoming spirit, and boasted that that distinguishable characteristic has been one that the college has upheld since “its first days.” Kerry said the school has continued to adhere to the lifestyle and motto set forth by the Jesuits, and it was the compassion, listening, and understanding at BC that taught him how to think critically, and reinforced his sense of direction.

Kerry said like BC, the United States lives up to similar ideals. “What makes America different from other nations is not a common religion, bloodline, ideology, or heritage. What makes America different is we are united by an uncommon idea: we’re all created equal, all endowed with unalienable rights,” he said.

But Kerry said the success of America can’t be measured by what we do for ourselves, but rather, what we do for the entire world, including combatting climate change so that it doesn’t leave some countries with long-lasting droughts and or a lack of crops. “Climate change is related to the potential for greater conflict, instability. It is the poorest and the weakest who are at the greatest risk, and we should be in anguish over this,” he said. “This is not a matter of policy and partisanship, it is a matter of science and stewardship.”

Kerry called on graduating students to use the privilege of their education and diplomas to help fight problems of the world like climate change. “Our citizenship is not a privilege but a profound responsibility,” he said. “Pass on your light to others. Set the world aflame with your service, welcome those who are lost, seek out those at the crossroads—that’s how you can fulfill your responsibility as a graduate of this great institution…and how you can keep faith with, and renew, the idea of America.”