Individuals count

Enrico Letta speech at the opening of the academic year of PSIA

We are many and we come from all corners of the world. We find ourselves gathered here on a late August afternoon. SciencesPo attracts diverse people, who come from afar and who are today strangers to one another, to pass two years together and leave changed. None of us will be the same person at the end of these two years. This is true for the students, it’s true for me, it’s for those who will have the responsibility of guiding PSIA alongside me and it’s also true for the professors. We will all change. And this change will be crucial to all our lives. How we change depends on each of us. On how we relate to each other and on how we commit ourselves. On how we understand the changes in the world around us.

In the next two years the world will change. We will have a new U.N. Secretary General and a new President of the U.S.A. We will have a different Europe too with crucial elections in France and Germany. A Europe which will have chosen its direction at the crossroads where it now stands, most particularly in regard to such crucial questions as the Euro and immigration flows. And Europe which will also continue, I fear, to follow with apprehension the debate over democracy and the economy which surrounds the situation in Greece and which has developed such dramatic overtones. A Europe which will closely follow the United Kingdom’s referendum on its continued membership of the E.U. We need I believe a more integrated Euro Area to face all this challenges. We will have new outlooks on climate change (we will follow the Paris Conference with great interest), on Energy, and on trade. We will better understand the direction of our struggle against that fundamentalist terrorism which so dramatically bloodied the start of 2015, here, on the streets of Paris.

Also, in a few months, during next year the world will test out global Chinese leadership for the first time as China will guide the G20 in 2016. This will not be simply a ceremonial or formal undertaking on the part of the Chinese. Because the success or failure of their presidency will impact/determine the recovery of the G20 from the difficulties of recent summits and its establishment as the seat of the efficient and balanced global governance of which we are so in need.

Dear students: we will all live through these changes and many others in the next years and it will be a fascinating journey. But we will watch these changes not as we read the paper, visit a website or watch a documentary. We are not, nor will we, be mere spectators of a film.

You have, and if you are here at Sciences Po and PSIA, you MUST have, different ambitions.

You are here to change yourselves and you are here to change the world. Therefore, do not skimp on your ambitions. Be rigorous with yourselves in regard to loyalty, ethics and your sense of duty, but give free rein to your ambitions. Have high ambitions. Set the bar high and then higher still. Today’s world does not need followers but leaders. The world is full of followers. It is true leaders, simultaneously accountable and visionary, that we lack. You are not here to comment on the achievements of others with no commitment of your own. You are not here to develop your ability to hide among the masses and avoid the difficult consequences of you words (and actions OUI). No, absolutely, no.

If you have come to Paris, if you have chosen PSIA and Sciences Po and if today, August 27th 2015, you have chosen to join all these other bright and young people in this famous amphitheater Boutmy, so rich in history, so storied, it is not to mimic or to hide, not to choose the easy life, not to limit yourselves to the role of followers.

You have chosen the high objective of changing yourselves to change the world. Remember that, for every minute of the next two years. Remember it, in the beautiful moments and even in the less exciting ones. It’s a journey which will change your life. And to help you in these two years you will have alongside you, people who did not arrive here by mere chance. You will have at your side people who share your ambitions. People who think that thanks to education, to high level education, to quality education, you can make your own contribution to a better world. A unique faculty who is composed of people who have dedicated their lives to research and teaching and people whose experience has been seasoned in the most interesting and difficult jobs and institutional roles.

You will recognize in them the irreplaceable value of the Individual. And they will work together with you, the students of PSIA, seeing in you the people who will change the world of tomorrow.

I tell you this on the basis of my own experience. Mistakenly, one tends to think more and more that the world’s destiny depends on formulae, on technicalities, on some kind of global alchemy. I don’t agree. Changes in the world depend on INDIVIDUALS. It is on them, their choices, their sensitivity, their preferences and their ambitions that depend the choices which change our collective destiny. Those choices influence the great inequalities of our time, they influence the contradictions we will study and they influence the solutions we will seek to analyze. I don’t speak only of those people who have the formal responsibility of governance at the national and international level. I speak of the people in various positions, and there are many, a very great many, who are able to influence these choices. Individuals count.

I am progressively ever more convinced that education is the most important human activity. It is commitment to education which bears the most substantial and enduring fruit. It is the quintessence of LONGTERMISM which we must increasingly prefer to SHORTERMISM which is the truly destructive virus of our society. Since in the world of today early results, immediate results, the “everything and now” seem to be fashionable we need to re-evaluate our commitment to education and make it an absolute priority.

It is the thing that convinced me to take the gamble (accept the challenge) of assuming the difficult task of succeeding Ghassan Salamé, First Dean and founder, five years ago, of PSIA and to whom I offer an affectionate salute and best wishes for good luck in his future activities. Taking the baton from him in order to continue the extraordinary work of consolidating and growing PSIA is a demanding undertaking; in giving it everything I have, I know I can count on an extraordinary team including Vanessa Scherrer, Deputy Dean of the PSIA.

I accepted with enthusiasm the offer of the Director of SciencesPo, Frederic Mion, DESPITE, or perhaps even BECAUSE, it offers me a change of scenery. And I face this change with the greatest enthusiasm, an enthusiasm that for some time I had not felt so keenly or captivatingly. Thank you therefore Frederic, for your effort accountability and determination which were decisive in convincing me to be here today with you. Thank you all. Our journey now begins. It will be beautiful to make it together.