From the original settlers crossing the Atlantic in their tiny ships, to the pioneers who first crossed the Appalachians, to the homesteaders of the Great Plains and the gold miners of California, Americans have always sought the new, the dangerous, the untried, untested, and unexplored -- the great wide open. It was no mistake that professors of the first half of the 20th century taught Frederick Jackson Turner's Frontier Thesis as an integral part of the growth of America to transcontinental nationhood in the 19th century, and it was no accident that John F. Kennedy, who challenged my generation to lives of public service, defined his administration as the "New Frontier."
At a less lofty level this search is captured in a famous cartoon that also defined the 60s --the bearded, long-haired hitchhiker at the side of the road holding up a sign that says only, "Farther."
Whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, the frontier is part of who and what we are. And it is part of who you are, whether your ancestors were those pilgrims, homesteaders or gold miners, or whether they were farmers in Ireland, Vietnam, Mexico, or Central America, refugees from the wars that plagued Europe, or slaves brought here from Africa. In all these circumstances America has opened its doors, if not its arms, and taken in the huddled masses so eloquently described by Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty. But those masses are not a mysterious "them" in some other part of town, they are "us" pure and simple. Of course, we're all dressed up a bit more --our hair is combed; we have our good clothes on; we have our diplomas in hand. We may not look like the huddled masses of our ancestors, but our roots are there nonetheless, and they speak to us as we conduct our own searches.
Who has gained from this unprecedented policy of acceptance? Not only the individuals, but the nation. For it is the strong that have sought to come here, the strong that have survived the travails of getting here, the strong that prevailed once they arrived, and the strong who inexorably sought out our physical and social frontiers and proceeded to tame them one by one in a process that continues today with all of you but will move on to future generations as well. It is America that is stronger and more prosperous as a result.
But your frontiers will be different. In the beginning, our thirst for the great wide open was literal -- open spaces, untilled fields, grassy plains. Now, as the physical frontier, at least on land, is swallowed up by roads, bridges, and airports, our search has moved to new depths and heights as we explore the oceans and reach for the stars -- literally and figuratively. Today's frontiers -- and tomorrow's -- lie in the laboratory, the computer and the human mind. The frontiers of technology, research, and knowledge and the challenge of pushing back their boundaries to advance the state of humankind.
Your enthusiasm for tackling those new frontiers with the same energy, imagination, and persistence of your predecessors defines America of the 21st century -- not without warts by any means, but nonetheless the world's leader as well as the world's innovator. It would be a bad cliche to say we are boldly going where no one has gone before, but it would be true to say that much of today's innovation, whether it is in software, hardware, biotechnology, genetics, new materials, health care, environmental science, or space, is taking place here in America, in many cases through work by some of our most recent arrivals.
That activity, and the spirit of exploration and optimism that underlies it -- the spirit of the frontier -- is your forebears' gift to you. My generation's gift to you, via Johns Hopkins and other institutions, is the knowledge and skill you need to function in our rapidly changing society. Your vision of what to do with that knowledge must be yours alone. But what you do with your vision will be your gift to future generations, a gift that will fulfill your obligation to those that have preceded you.
Seeing your vision clearly and deciding where you want to go requires knowing how far we have come. And, as has often been said, if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there.
First, globalization and advances in technology bring everything together. A thousand years ago, even two hundred years ago, most people never got more than 20 miles from where they were born. Today, we fly to London or Paris for the weekend, vacation in Southeast Asia or Antarctica. In my business, which is trade, I illustrate this by pointing out that more than half the cut flowers sold in this country every day are imported from overseas, which would have been unthinkable and impossible even 30 years ago. There's a company in North Carolina that catches flounder off the Atlantic Coast and sells it fresh every day --in Tokyo.
Second, technology speeds everything up. When I was growing up, air mail was the best you could do. Overseas phone calls were rare, expensive, and operator-arranged. Today, air mail is snail mail, and I'm surprised I haven't heard any cell phones ringing out there. If you are a college freshman today --which is not that far away from some of you --you may never have seen or used a record player or 8-track, a black-and-white TV, or even a typewriter. You don't know what Atari is, and you have never experienced life without answering machines, microwaves or VCRs. For this generation, Kansas, Chicago, Boston, America, and Alabama are all places, not musical groups. (And I know you don't remember when tuition at Hopkins was $2000 -- per year, not per course!) Technology milestones pass by more and more quickly. Moore's Law, for example, tells us that semiconductor performance capabilities double every 18 months. Software is out of date in half that time.
Third, by speeding everything up, we risk leaving more people behind. For those who are ready, eager, and given the chance to explore, technology provides more opportunities and more rewards. For those who are not included or not prepared, it leaves them in the dust, ill-equipped to function in a global economy.
It is a sad fact that in the nation that created the Internet, less than forty percent of classrooms in the poorest schools have access to it, compared to over three fourths of the nation's wealthiest schools where this new world of opportunity is a mere mouse click away. Eighty percent of households with an annual income of $75,000 or higher have a computer, but nearly the same number of households with incomes of less than $15,000 year do not. In fact, for those Americans whose income is average, only twelve percent have access to the Internet. This means many of our people are not part of the rapidly developing Information Age, and it gives meaning to fears that this digital divide will expand the gap between rich and poor and create a dual economy.
Fourth, technology is a great leveler among nations. As the gap between inventing something new and producing and disseminating it narrows, the opportunity for more people to acquire it grows rapidly. Whereas nations used to hoard their comparative advantages and their secrets -- in my field, for example, the first export controls were imposed by the English to keep longbow technology out of the hands of the French -- now those secrets are all available instantly on the Internet for everyone to see, to copy, and to use.
That makes the world a more dangerous place. The Cold War, for all the fear and bad movies it generated, had a certain elegant simplicity. We knew who the enemy was and where he was, and we had broad agreement among our friends on how to deal with him. Today's world, on the other hand, is characterized by multiple threats from a variety of rogue states who are far apart in geography and common purpose but whose small size allows a degree of irresponsibility the Soviet Union could never risk. They are busy gathering the means to make weapons of mass destruction, and the same globalization that is bringing the world together in the interest of economic growth and prosperity is also making their job easier. Those of us in the business of stopping them, as I am, must contend with technology transfer via modem and Internet as well as with declining allied consensus on the breadth and depth of the problem. The technological and diplomatic challenges provide new frontiers every day.
Fifth, the other thing being "leveled" is culture. Thanks to television, the Internet, and satellite communications, American pop culture is saturating the world. Whether that's dumbing down or building up is debatable. Not everyone thinks MTV or "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" is a major advance for civilization. But what is -- I believe -- an advance is the spread of American ideals -- freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law -- to far corners of the globe whose leaders have often kept these fundamental principles from their people. That this occurs through the spread of the new lingua franca -- English -- helps bring far flung peoples together by enabling them to communicate.
Sixth, just as the growth of commerce in the last century and the first part of this one brought about the decline of states' rights versus the federal government, the globalization of technology in this century will bring about a decline in nations' rights and the growth of supranational entities. That doesn't mean an end to countries. In fact, we' ll likely have more countries than ever before as more regional ethnic groups assert autonomy, but their existence will have less meaning except as a point of geographic or ethnic pride.
This means the world of the future will be flatter, faster, and closer together. Already in Europe we can see your generation becoming true citizens of the continent -- born in one country, working in another, with several more moves ahead of them -- and speaking three languages. The United States welcomed nearly a half million foreign students last year, a number that has been growing steadily. Many of these students will stay here, but these masses will be huddled around a computer screen rather than the drafty rooms of Ellis Island. They may not be selling fish to Japan, but they may be e-trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
Finally, as we saw last month in Washington and last year in Seattle, these changes make people nervous. About their future. About the world's future. People feel that their lives may spin out of control. Today's good job and good salary is next week's victim of downsizing or movement offshore. As the treadmill moves faster, more and more people worry about being thrown off. That commercial with the kids asking, "Are you ready?" asks an important question. What if you're not ready? Where is the psychic, as well as financial, safety net? Is Megaglobal Manufacturing, Inc. going to take care of you? What about Widgets.com? Does the virtual company provide anything beyond virtual benefits?
For each of you, these are important questions, but they are nonetheless the small questions. The big ones are asked of societies and nations:
Last month, thousands of Americans --perhaps some of you --marched in Washington to say "no" to those questions. Personally, I think that's the wrong answer, but they are the right questions. If technology and globalization are not leading to better lives for the world's peoples; if those promoting them argue that better lives are not their responsibility; if government argues that it has no duty to prevent global economic integration from causing social disintegration; then the people's confidence in government and democratic institutions will inevitably erode.
And that is important. These institutions are the ones that must lead us to "yes" answers as the limits of national growth become more obvious. If we cannot get them right, we risk having nothing left to guide and manage the changes that are irreversible. For there is little doubt that these changes are irreversible.
It is at best difficult and always dangerous to turn back the technology clock -- "uninvent" things we have discovered; break links we have established, pull peoples apart rather than put them together. That has happened -- the fall of the Roman Empire led to nearly a thousand years of Dark Ages. World War I and then II set international trade back from its peak in 1913 to levels reached again only in the 1980s. These are not good examples to follow.
But the other reason we should not try to undo what we have done is that it denies our heritage. It is running away from the great wide open. It is failing to confront our fears and failures and using our special skills to stare them down and triumph over them.
My charge to you today is, first, to tell you that you can do that. You are ready. Thanks to your undergraduate education and your work here at Hopkins -- one of the finest institutions in the country -- you know how to think. You are equipped, not with the burdens of the past, but with the tools you need in this time and place. Even so, your education is not over; it is only just beginning, because survival in the new century is going to require life-long learning.
Second, claim your heritage, accept your obligations, and use those tools not only for yourself but for others. Just as those who have gone before have given you the gifts of this country, of peace and prosperity, of the rule of law, of a thirst for social justice and human rights, it is now your turn to accept that burden and ultimately pass it on to those who follow you.
Third, I hope many of you will find your frontiers in public service. One of the mistakes we make is to assume the sun will shine on America forever. In fact, democracy is hard work, and it requires constant attention. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who will leave government service next January after 24 years in the Senate, made this point eloquently last year when he accepted an award for public policy named after the late Senator John Heinz from Pennsylvania, for whom I had the great honor to work for 14 years.
"It would be just 222 years ago that what we came to call the Constitutional Convention finished its work in Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin emerged from what we now call Independence Hall, and a lady asked him, 'what have you wrought." And he said, "a Republic, if you can keep it." And how wise he was. There were in 1787 two nations on earth which both existed at that time and had not had their form of government changed by violence since that time. There are eight nations in the world which both existed in 1914 and that have not had their form of government changed except by violence since that time....Not always approved, sometimes very much disparaged, the art of politics and government is the highest calling of a democracy. And the achievement we have in the stability of this society is so easily underestimated. It is normal for us -- it is the rarest conceivable thing for most of mankind....it will not be sustained and continued if we don't know in fact how fragile it is and how much it needs the very best of men and women to continue it with the knowledge and the courage to do so."
One of the things I do every year in November, as a child of the 60s, is visit President Kennedy's gravesite at Arlington Cemetery. If you haven't been there, I recommend it. I go to remember and pay my respects to a man who inspired many of us to see public service as our great wide open. While there, I am always lifted up by the words from his inaugural address inscribed on the stones that look out on the Capital. You all have heard the most famous, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
But there are other words in that speech that didn't make it on to the stones which I want to leave you with today, and they are: "If a free society cannot help the many that are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."
These are words I hope you will remember as you go into the great wide open. You are ready. You are equipped. Claim your heritage. Find the frontier and push on, as Americans have always done, but in so doing remember that you explore not only for yourself but for all of us and for a better world.
In April of 2002 the Bureau of Export Administration (BXA) changed its name to the Bureau of Industry and Security(BIS). For historical purposes we have not changed the references to BXA in the legacy documents found in the Archived Press and Public Information.