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Fareed Zakaria challenges Harvard graduates

Harvard graduates jubilantly embraced at Thursday’s commencement exercises, which featured Fareed Zakaria as speaker.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Harvard graduates jubilantly embraced at Thursday’s commencement exercises, which featured Fareed Zakaria as speaker.

CAMBRIDGE -- The world is in the midst of an “astonishing age of progress,” acclaimed journalist and author Fareed Zakaria told graduating ­Harvard University students Thursday, and he challenged them to help shape it.

“When we come together, when we put aside petty difference, when we cooperate, the results are astounding,” Zakaria, host of the CNN international affairs program “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” and editor at large of Time magazine, told students, alumni, and families at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association, the afternoon program of the college’s commencement.

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“When we look at the problems we face — economic crises, terrorism, climate change, resource scarcity — keep in mind that these are real problems, but the human reaction and response to them will be real,” said Zakaria, who has a doctorate from Harvard and who received an honorary ­degree during this year’s commencement, the school’s 361st, on a picture-perfect afternoon.

The jovial proceedings followed the conferring of degrees 7,500 students earlier in the day.

As the afternoon ceremony began, the graduates wandered through Harvard Yard’s Tercentenary Theatre taking photographs with proud relatives and waving to friends ­before taking their seats.

Zakaria, a native of India who has been hailed for his foreign policy expertise, outlined the advances in medicine, technology, and education that have reduced poverty levels, ­increased life expectancy, and improved the living condition of people around the world. He said such improvements will help this country to continue to grow.

“A world of peace and broader prosperity — the rise of the rest — is going to be particularly good for the United States, because let me remind you that this is the country with the largest and most dynamic economy in the world,” Zakaria said, praising the United States for its industries and diversity.

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He encouraged the graduates to be proactive and avoid complacency.

“Human action and human achievement have managed to take on and best terrible problems,” Zakaria said.

His confidence in the world extended to the recent graduates. He urged them to make a difference by following principles such as hard work, courage, loyalty, and faith that society has always honored.

“Trust in your instincts and you will build a great life, you will build a good life, and you will change the world,” he said.

Harvard awarded honorary degrees to Zakaria, composer John Adams, philosophy professor K. Anthony Appiah, critic Gillian Beer, physicist Walter Kohn, Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp, Georgia congressman John Lewis, and atmospheric scientist Mario Molina.

Harvard president Drew Faust also looked to the fast-changing future with a confident outlook, telling the graduates that the institution will continue to adapt and meet challenges.

“Harvard has survived and thrived by considering over and over again how its timeless and unwavering dedication to knowledge and truth must be adapted to the demands of each new age,” she said.

“With the strength of our past, we welcome these unknowns and the opportunities they offer as we reimagine ­Harvard for the next 375 years,” she said.

Johanna Kaiser can be reached at johanna.yourtown@gmail.com. For more news from area towns and ­Boston’s neighborhoods, go to ­boston.com/yourtown.

Johanna Kaiser can be reached at johanna.yourtown@gmail.com. For more news from area towns and ­Boston’s neighborhoods, go to ­boston.com/yourtown.

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