US Secretary of State John Kerry Friday urged Northeastern University graduates to strive to become global leaders and confront what he described as the world's most pressing issues — climate change, poverty, and terrorism.
"The greatest challenges that our world confronts are best addressed — and in some cases can only be addressed — by good and capable people working in common cause with citizens of other nations," he said.
Before a jubilant crowd of 25,000 at the TD Garden in Boston, Kerry said he was honored to "address a university family that thankfully is one utterly unafraid to look beyond our borders and into the future."
Kerry, a former longtime senator from Massachusetts, noted that the graduating class featured students from nearly 80 countries, making it the most diverse in the school's history.
"In other words, you are Donald Trump's worst nightmare," he quipped, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.
Graduates waved hundreds of flags from around the world — China, Italy, Vietnam, Australia, and South Korea, just to name a few. Some personalized their black caps, like the student who wrote "Just Did It" in block green letters with Nike's signature swoosh logo.
Another sent a more sentimental message, writing "Thank you Mom and Dad" in golden letters, adorned with a passport, the British flag, and a sparkling red heart.
Two seats in the arena were left empty in honor of Victoria McGrath and Priscilla Perez Torres, roommates and best friends who were killed in a car crash in Dubai on March 6.
McGrath, who had survived the Boston Marathon bombing, was a 23-year-old from Weston, Conn., studying finance. Torres, 23, from Puerto Rico, was a biology major.
Northeastern president Joseph Aoun recalled McGrath and Torres as "very special human beings" and said their families would accept posthumous degrees on their behalf.
Kerry also paid his respects to the late students, saying "this morning we grieve and we celebrate." He later alluded to McGrath as he emphasized the importance of combating violent extremism.
"Boston and Northeastern need no lessons in how important it is to win the battle against terrorism," he said.
In another apparent reference to Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Kerry said "there are no walls big enough to stop people from anywhere, tens of thousands of miles away, who are determined to take their own lives while they target others."
He cautioned graduates not to heed foreign policy advice from "soundbite salesmen and carnival barkers."
Kerry also called for the elimination of poverty, saying that the gap "between rich and poor remains far too wide." It would require international cooperation, not isolationist policies, to end poverty, as well as address climate change, he said. He encouraged graduates to pursue careers in renewable energy, where there are "fortunes to be made," he said.
Addressing global challenges, Kerry said, is the duty of the world's most prosperous nation, and would be central to building national security.
"We're not exceptional because we say we are and keep repeating it," he said of American exceptionalism. "We are exceptional because we do exceptional things."