Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev spoke at Seton Hall as part of the Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations' World Leaders Forum on April 19, 2005.
In his speech, Mr. Gorbachev addressed the challenges that have faced democracy throughout history and the potential roadblocks to its future success.
Well, I knew that April 19th would be historic for Seton Hall.
Little did I realize today would be historic for the world.
We all rejoice in the election earlier today of our new Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. May God bless him and the mission he has been given for the Church and for the world.
People change history. Despite the powerful forces of nature and the irresistible "progress" of technology, it is individuals who can change the world. Great leaders sense pivotal moments and tipping points of history.
Yes, individuals DO change history. One person CAN make the crucial difference.
Who would have thought that less than a generation ago, a few visionary leaders could so quickly, and so peacefully, rewrite the expectations of a world gripped in fear?
I think, way back, of a young Ronald Reagan who in the 1920's began his undergraduate years at Eureka College, in the American heartland, and then began a storied career, in the depths of the Depression.
I think, way back, of a young Karol Wojtyla, later John Paul II, who moved from his brief undergraduate experience at Jagiellonian University in Krakow in the late 1930's to endure horrors of World War II, then followed, at great risk, his vocation, just as the Iron Curtain closed in eastern Europe.
I think, way back, of a young Mikhail Gorbachev who in the 1950's worked his way through Moscow State University, married and began a family, in the bleakest, most threatening days of the Cold War.
I wonder if the presidents of Eureka or the Jagiellonian or Moscow State ever met these ordinary looking students. Would they have ever guessed the roles that these students might, in time, play in history? A lesson none of us should ever forget is the power of providence to yield up individuals, perhaps looking ordinary, in unremarkable circumstances, to do extraordinary things on the world stage.
I welcome you today to hear the voice of one man, Mikhail Gorbachev,who did write dramatic pages in the history of the 20th century and in the history of humanity.
Our Whitehead School and Seton Hall exist to introduce students to great, enduring ideas and to great professors, ambassadors and business leaders as well as to other very talented students with so much potential.
And, at times, like this afternoon, to hear from uncommon world leaders, like Mr. Gorbachev, as they have heard from leaders like Israel's Simon Peres, and Iran's Mohammad Khatami, and the UN's Kofi Annan, and many others in the first eight years of this school's own history.
As I welcome you here this afternoon, I re-affirm my belief that individuals — bold and farsighted men and women — do continue to write surprising, hope-filled history for us, and our children.
Perhaps one of our students here today is such a leader in training.
Remember that Eureka and Jagiellonian and Moscow State educated such individuals. I have every confidence Seton Hall will, too.