German chancellor Angela Merkel gives keynote address at Harvard commencement

“The Berlin Wall limited my opportunities. It quite literally stood in my way."

May 31, 2019 21:58
3 minute read.
Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel. (photo credit: REUTERS)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was honored as the keynote speaker at Harvard University Class of 2019's commencement Thursday afternoon, urging the students to never take their situation for granted while offering her own harrowing experiences as a child growing up in East Germany to motivate the students into their next chapter of life.

Merkel primarily spoke in German, with her comments being translated into English, and spoke about her journey from oppression to becoming the first woman chancellor of Germany.

"I grew up in East Germany, in the GDR, the part of my country which was not free at the time, in a dictatorship. People were oppressed and under surveillance," Merkel began her speech. "The East German government was worried that the people would flee to freedom, and that's why it built the Berlin Wall, a wall made of concrete and steel.

The reality of this frustrated her to the core, and even though she was not a dissident she would not deny its existence or the fact that it was tearing her country apart. However, she continued that it never opposed her limits on her inner thoughts and wished.

Merkel had to be reminded of this reality everyday as she walked home to her house, considering she lived close to the wall. She had to experience the heartbreaking truth that she was not free everyday and it broke her as everytime as she had to "turn away from freedom at the last minute."

In 1989, hundreds of thousands of people across multiple countries "dared" to stand up to this oppression, eventually bringing down the wall and freeing East Germany and her fellow citizens from the dictatorship that held them hostage for years and years.

“The Berlin Wall limited my opportunities. It quite literally stood in my way. However, there was one thing which this wall couldn’t do through all those years: It couldn’t impose limits on my inner thoughts, my personality, my imagination, my dreams and desires.”

This victory led Merkel to believe that nothing ever has to stay the way it is, that anything that "is set in stone or unalterable can in fact be changed."

Merkel spoke about the life her parents grew up in and equivocated the experience to the students lives by sharing with them that when her parents were their age "the betrayal of all civilized values that was the Shoah and World War II had just ended. My country Germany had brought unimaginable suffering to both Europe and the World."

However, after the war instead of the European countries dispersing blame onto Germany, a peaceful agreement came across Europe. Choosing to work together instead of the victors bullying the defeated for the atrocities committed during World War II. In addition, despite recent setbacks Merkel believes that Europe has indeed united for the better -  and that the relationship between Germany and America shows that wartime friends can become peaceful allies.

"Tear down walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness, for nothing has to stay as it is,” Merkel concluded.

Earlier in the day, Merkel "was awarded and honorary doctor of laws degree for her resolute leadership on the world stage and her unwavering defense of democratic ideals and international cooperation," according to the Harvard Gazette.

While Merkel has been losing ground within her popularity and the recent setback within gaining votes in the European parliament, she has told members of her Christian Democrats (CDU) she wanted to serve her full term as German chancellor until 2021, according to Reuters.

Merkel also said she would not seek reelection as chancellor or as a conservative lawmaker in the Bundestag parliament after her term ends, party sources said.

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