ASU Barrett scholar-in-residence gives advice, inspiration in keynote speech

Vaira Vike-Freiberga

Former President of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Photo courtesy Nicole Greason/Barrett Honors College


Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the first scholar-in-residence under Barrett, The Honors College’s Distinguished Global Leader Program, dispensed practical advice, world observations and inspiration in a wide-ranging speech Jan. 24 at Arizona State University.

Vike-Freiberga, is the former president of the Republic of Latvia (1999–2007) and current president of the World Leadership Alliance/Club De Madrid. She will be a scholar-in-residence at Barrett until March 2.

In her talk, which was attended by approximately 300 ASU students, faculty, staff and community members in the Carson Ballroom at Old Main, the former president touched on many themes, including involvement in world affairs, leadership, the women’s movement, and politics.

Addressing students specifically, Vike-Freiberga said millennials should not be reticent about getting involved in domestic and world affairs, but rather seek out opportunities to engage locally and globally in meaningful ways.

“The decisions you make in life now will affect you all of your life. At the end of your life, hopefully you will have constructed a beautiful and worthwhile life of service to others,” she said.

Young people also should not fear change, but strive to find their place in society, as well as their purpose.

“We have to adjust to change. We can’t stay the same. Ask yourself, where do I fit in? Where does my country fit in?” adding that, “without a sense of contribution, without a sense of purpose we can’t have influence on the wheels of fate and fortune.”

A good dose of practicality and healthy skepticism also is necessary when engaging with leaders.

“Beware of political leaders who make unreasonable promises. Leaders will promise their followers the moon, but won’t give them what’s on the earth. Look for leaders who are practical and grounded in reality,” she said.

woman speaking to audience at podium

Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former president of Latvia, speaks to a crowd of about 300 in her keynote address as Barrett, The Honors College's scholar-in-residence, under the college's Distinguished Global Leader Series. Photo courtesy Nicole Greason/Barrett Honors College

She also touched on these topics:

• Her views on U.S. President Donald Trump: “Is Mr. Trump’s threat of nuclear war going to change North Korea? I doubt it. Is the leader of North Korea’s work on developing nuclear bombs going to bring him world respect? I don’t think so.”

• Using privilege responsibly: “You are a privileged bunch. Privileged in the facilities that are available to you. Privileged to be where you are. You have the privilege of your capabilities. Make use of your gifts and privilege and use them to the fullest. Make yourselves agents of change for the good of your community and your world.”

• Thoughts on the worldwide women’s movement, in response to a question from an audience member: “Unfortunately, women have been clinging to the bottom of the wheel rather than the top. The key is to get a critical mass together to develop a super-saturated movement that will crystallize and create change. We are moving toward that and change is coming.”

• On refugees who may want to return to their own countries, in response to a question from an audience member: “The best thing you can do for your country is to go back and bring your knowledge and perspective. It is the biggest gift you can bring to your country; the fact that you have a broad perspective on the world.”

Vike-Freiberga will continue her residency with events, panel discussions and meetings with students. See her schedule here.

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