Angela Merkel tells Harvard grads to ′tear down walls′ | News | DW | 30.05.2019
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Angela Merkel tells Harvard grads to 'tear down walls'

The chancellor has addressed students at the elite university, encouraging them to shape the future. Her halting speech appeared to contain a few digs at President Donald Trump, without mentioning him by name.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered a commencement speech to Harvard graduates on Thursday after being greeted with rousing applause when introduced as "one of the most respected and influential leaders of the postwar era."

Addressing students at the Ivy League school's 368th commencement ceremony, Merkel began in English, yet quickly switched to German.

Merkel, speaking through a translator, touched on a number of topics throughout the speech — beginning with her own upbringing in East Germany under the shadow of the Berlin Wall. The idea of the wall was one that she would return to throughout the speech.

She would go on to speak of the "walls in people's minds, walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness," at one point calling on students to, "Tear down walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness for nothing has to stay as it is."

The chancellor hit on other subjects including the opportunities and threats posed by new technologies, as well as the challenge of combating climate change.

Read more: Trump's ambassador Grenell muddled on Merkel comments

She warned students that nothing could be taken for granted, yet encouraged them to realize: "Anything that seems to be set in stone and unalterable, can be changed. Every change begins in the mind."

Merkel also acknowledged Germany's historic responsibility, as well as the theme of forgiveness, noting that: "The relations between Germany and the US, too, show how former enemies can become friends."

During that passage, she underscored the importance of transatlantic relations based on shared values, referring to George Marshall's famous 1947 Harvard commencement speech in which he unveiled his plan for helping rebuild Europe after the war.

Read more: Common threats unite Germans and Americans despite differences

In clear reference to current US policy under President Trump, she said, "protectionism threatens the foundations of our prosperity." Instead, Merkel laid out a different path, one that is, "Multilateral rather than unilateral, global rather than national, outward looking rather than isolationist. In short, we have to work together rather than alone."

The biggest applause by far came when she told those present: "We must be honest with others and with ourselves, and that means that we do not call lies truths and not call the truth lies." The line struck a note with the audience and she was given a standing ovation for it.

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