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Good morning. It is an honor for me to join you at the New Economic School. Michelle and I are so pleased to be in Moscow, and as someone who was born in Hawaii, I’m glad to be here in July instead of January.
I know that NES is a young school, but I speak to you today with deep respect for Russia’s timeless heritage. Russian writers have helped us understand the complexity of the human experience, and recognize eternal truths. Your painters, composers, and dancers have introduced us to new forms of beauty. Your scientists have cured disease, sought new frontiers of progress, and helped take us to space.
These contributions are not contained by Russia’s borders, as vast as they are. Indeed, Russia’s heritage has touched every corner of the world, and speaks to the humanity that we share. That includes my own country, which has been blessed with Russian immigrants, enriched by Russian culture, and enhanced by Russian cooperation. And as a resident of Washington, I continue to benefit from the contributions of Russians — specifically, from Alexander Ovechkin.
Here at NES, you have inherited this great cultural legacy, but your focus on economics is no less fundamental to the future of humanity. As Pushkin said, “Inspiration is needed in geometry just as much as poetry.” And today, I want particularly to speak to those of you preparing to graduate. You are poised to be leaders in academia and industry; in finance and government. Before you move forward, however, it is worth reflecting upon what has already taken place during your young lives.
Like President Medvedev and me, you are not old enough to have witnessed the darkest hours of the Cold War, when hydrogen bombs were tested in the atmosphere, children drilled in fallout shelters, and we reached the brink of nuclear catastrophe. But you are the last generation born when the world was divided. At that time, the American and Soviet armies were still massed in Europe, trained and ready to fight. The ideological trenches of the last century were roughly in place. Competition in everything from astrophysics to athletics was treated as a zero sum game.
Then, within a few short years, the world as it was ceased to be. Make no mistake: this change did not come from any one nation alone. The Cold War reached a conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years, and because the people of Russia and Eastern Europe stood up and decided that its end would be peaceful.