Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took aim at nationalism and divisive politics Thursday on the home turf of U.S. President Donald Trump, one of the world leaders most criticized in recent years for his frequent use of those same tactics.
In his commencement speech to graduates of New York University, where he also accepted an honourary doctor in laws degree, Trudeau made an impassioned plea to those in attendance to reject tribalism and focus on finding ways to bring people from different backgrounds together.
“Here’s my request,” he said to graduates.
“As you go forward from this place, I would like you to make a point of reaching out to people whose beliefs and values differ from your own. I would like you to listen, truly listen, and try to understand them.”
Thousands of graduating students and their families gathered at Yankee Stadium in New York City to mark the occasion.
Trudeau was among several people receiving honourary degrees from the school.
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His speech, lasting just over 20 minutes, focused on familiar themes: diversity, inclusion and a rejection of fear-mongering.
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He also made a call for graduates to become leaders who focus not on winning an argument, but winning the broader battle for positive change in the world.
To do that, he said, they will need to show they are willing to consider views that are different from their own.
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“This is the antithesis of the polarization, the aggressive nationalism, the aggressive politics that have become so common of late,” Trudeau said.
“It’s harder, of course. It’s always been easier to divide than to unite, but it requires true courage. Because if you want to bring around people to your way of thinking, you need to first show that you are open to theirs.”
Trump, whose grandfather immigrated from Germany, rose to power on a campaign focused on demonizing immigrants and political opponents.
Since taking office two years ago, his term has been marked by repeated court challenges over attempts to ban Muslim immigration. Earlier this year, he was widely criticized for reportedly referring to African nations as “shithole” countries.