Thank you for a very generous introduction. And thank you for the honorable degree.
Georgetown University was an extremely important stage in my life.
My office in Vilnius overlooks the beautiful campus of Vilnius University. Vilnius University was founded in the 16th century by the Jesuits, like Georgetown.
I remember when 21 years ago I first came to Georgetown for the Pew Economic Freedom Fellows program. Travelling from the newly independent Lithuania, still via Moscow, and still unsure whether they will let us go.
While studying here, I experienced real freedom, which meant open and friendly people, vibrant academic life and social activity.
After the program, I came back home with a better vision for my country in my heart. I still count the benefits of my time here.
So if you need a strong advocate of US exchange programs, she is standing in front of you.
It was then, in 1991-1992, that I learned two important things which helped me a lot in my life.
First, difficulties make us stronger. And second, responsibility is not a burden. Let me elaborate on these two points.
First, avoid Easy, embrace Difficult.
My generation was destined to be born under occupation, but blessed with an opportunity to live in the times of change. We did not simply witness change, we lived the change, we were the change. And we still are.
Lithuania was at the forefront, breaking down the Soviet empire. We were the first to declare independence, the first to suffer harsh consequences – human casualties and economic blockade. We were learning by doing: how to build a country, how to make it function well. Having gone through all this, we are stronger now.
Basketball was mentioned in the introduction. But it is not only this game which defines us. Next time you edit pictures on your Apple device using Pixelmator, please know that the program was developed by Lithuanians. If you want to have the fastest internet in Europe, come to Lithuania. Or if you saw Michael Phelps overtaken by someone in the swimming pool, it could have been our teenage prodigy Rūta Meilutytė, a 16 year-old Olympic gold medalist.
Creativity, dynamism and determination are in the Lithuanian DNA.
So do not shy away from challenges that will come your way. They are the wave you have to ride in order not to stay behind. Yes, it requires courage and strength, but it brings that joyful moment of “We did it!” It brings you and your country a tiny step forward.
Second, responsibility matters.
I know you are waiting for the chance to apply all theories, data and surveys you have learned in practice. You had the best professors, top politicians and experts come here. But you will be surprised how often in your work you will have to search for the simple things: common sense, honesty and courage to take responsible decisions. These qualities will be the most important in any kind of job or task you will have to carry out.
Europe, including Lithuania, is facing economic and financial challenges. Tough lessons throughout history have made us stronger, enabling to go through the economic crises which hit Lithuania once in 1998, and then in 2009. Now my country is among the fastest growing economies in Europe. But to achieve this, the Lithuanian government had to take unpopular, but necessary decisions to consolidate finances. To find the right balance between austerity and stimulus. And most importantly to ensure the understanding and patience of the people. It worked – Lithuania is on the path of growth.
Have the courage and responsibility to take decisions, no matter how hard or unpopular. You can correct mistakes, what you cannot correct is missed opportunities. And if you will be the first to be blamed for being too responsible, for looking too much for common sense and for being too honest, consider your career a success.
Difficulties make us stronger, responsibility – successful.
They say that a school or a university is like a second home. I come from Lithuania which is 4500 miles away from Georgetown, but addressing you all today, I feel at home.
I appreciate a lot the opportunity given to me 21 years ago. I met people, I learned. I saw the United States as an example for the development of my own country.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here again with colleagues and with friends.