Paul Farmer’s Baccalaureate remarks at Princeton

In case you missed it, check out Paul Farmer’s Baccaulareate speech at Princeton, delivered on June 1, 2008.  Farmer provides a vision for what the world will be like in 2028 if we are able to continue building a broad-based social movement for human rights.

A few good excerpts (make sure you check out the full text):

Medicine, certainly, will be transformed and improved, but that’s just the beginning. Our economy will be green, in this utopian vision, our carbon footprint tiny compared to the bad old days when oil hit, in 2010, $250 a barrel, provoking, at long last, a serious commitment to alternative, clean fuels that are truly clean as opposed to advertised as such. So too for India and China, which by 2020 became the world’s largest economies. The planet’s population will have grown, of course, but at nothing like the rates we’re seeing now: the human herd will no longer be culled by epidemic disease or by war. For the first time in a century, the Amazon rain forest will be growing, not shrinking.

A broad-based movement to acknowledge historical truths will have led not only to the abolition of war but to the forgiveness of “odious debt” in many countries. By 2028, the decades-long trend of increasing social inequalities will have been reversed, and four of the world’s five fastest-growing economies will be in Africa.

Medicine and health will have flourished during the first quarter of the 21st century. The United States will have a world-class national health system, introduced in 2009, with universal coverage implemented by 2012. Healthcare costs will have fallen even as the average citizen lives longer, better lives. “Social safety net” will no longer be a dirty word.

But is it crazy to wish for these kinds of improvements? Is it crazy for the class of 2008 to wish for something better than what has gone before?…Imagine a commencement speaker in the early nineteenth century, exhorting young Americans or Britons to abolish slavery as the affront to God that it surely was and is. Imagine an address in the early 20th century in which the speaker pushed universal suffrage, arguing that an adult is an adult, regardless of race or gender. Imagine a speaker in 1993—not so long ago—arguing that apartheid in South Africa was an insult not just to the notion of human rights but to modernity itself. Imagine a country like ours looking back from 2028 and thinking it quaint that not that long ago a woman or a black would not likely be elected as head of our country…A world in which every child has the right to go to school. A world in which clean water is not a privatized commodity to be sipped from bottles but rather part of the earth’s bounty, for all its inhabitants?

We may be leaders of this movement but must also be humble participants. Some have not been as quick to see the boundaries and dimensions of this movement. That’s because it’s fluid, as all real social movements are. It’s a chaotic movement, just now coalescing, but with the promise of lessening the hurts and insults of an unequal world.

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1 Response to “Paul Farmer’s Baccalaureate remarks at Princeton”


  1. 1 lill January 19, 2009 at 4:21 am

    thanks for posting this! yes, i think we all need a little optimism and idealism like this. as long as there is that “promise of lessening the hurts and insults of an unequal world” – we must fight on!

    also check out Paul Farmer’s audio essay on NPR This I Believe (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98460202)


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Welcome to the Students for Global Health Equity (SGHE) blog. Published by university students, the SGHE blog seeks to explore news and issues related to global health.

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