A message for Kosova’s Youth, shaping the nation’s trajectory towards progress and innovation
On May 22 and 23, 2023, RIT Kosovo (A.U.K) had the honor of hosting Mr. Ylli Bajraktari as the Commencement Speaker for the graduating class of 2023 and the Keynote Speaker for the “Support Kosova’s Next Success Story” fundraising event. Given the important messages that were shared for Kosova’s youth, especially on leadership, technology, and innovation – this article is published to serve as a reference for all those who are committed in shaping the nation’s path towards progress and development. The article contains valuable lessons on the importance of public service, dedication, and the role of emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence which are poised to change the world as we know it by 2030.
About the Author:
Ylli Bajraktari, CEO of the Special Competitive Studies Project (SCSP), Prior to launching SCSP, Ylli served as the Executive Director of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence. Prior to joining NSCAI, he served as Chief of Staff to the National Security Advisor LTG H.R. McMaster held a variety of leadership roles for former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, and served as Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey. Originally joining the Department of Defense in 2010, he served in the Office of the Undersecretary for Policy as a country director for Afghanistan, and later India.
Mr. Bajraktari is the recipient of the “Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Medal” – the highest award given to career DoD civilian employees. We are thrilled to welcome Mr. Bajraktari as our Keynote Speaker at our two upcoming important events – the Commencement Ceremony and the Gala Dinner where we celebrate our successes, achievements, and the continuous impact in powering progress in Kosovo and beyond.
The following text is Mr. Bajraktari’s speech
Thank you, Madam Chair, for that generous introduction. I’d also like to thank R.I.T Kosovo for inviting me to speak at your commencement today on the 20th anniversary of the founding of this university. I’d also like to take a moment to thank Mr. Prime Minister, President Shahrabi, Deputy US Ambassador, anddistinguished guests. I want to celebrate the hard-earned achievements of the class of 2023 and look ahead to the future that you will soon forge. I accepted the invitation to speak here in front of you today because the Kosova’s young people have always been at the forefront of change serving as a pathfinder for the destiny of this country. And I believe you are the next generation of leaders that can change the trajectory of this nation. Young people of Kosova were key to socio-political changes in the 1980s when communism was collapsing and young people of Kosova were key to lead Kosova wisely in the 1990s during the brutal wars happening in former Yugoslavia. Young people again were instrumental in charting the path of Kosova towards independence that culminated in 2008. I have spent more than a decade working for the United States government - in the Pentagon and at the White House. There wasn't a question in my mind why I wanted to serve the United States government after my graduation. If it wasn’t for the United States and the action it took to prevent the genocide in Kosovo in late 1990s, we all probably would not be here, celebrating your graduation today at this American based educational institution. So my dream and desire was that - if I could - I would try to pay back the service of so many that made the decision and, ultimately, served in the decisive military action that liberated Kosova. So there wasn't anything more gratifying than meeting military and civilian leaders in the Pentagon that were part of the history for us and that have served during the 1999 air campaign over Serbia. And because of the opportunities that America offers, I was able to serve at the highest levels of government, working alongside some of the best military and civilian leaders. I see military personnel from the Kosovo Security Forces as graduates here today and I want to thank you for your service. Another unimaginable moment for Kosova is to have its armed forces build on the armed resistance of Kosova young leaders from the late 1990s.
However, my career in the last five years took me to a new direction somewhat unexpectedly. I was asked to lead a major effort and look at the impact of a very powerful technology called artificial intelligence and how it will change all aspects of our lives and in my case how it will impact the United States national security. I am saying all of this because as you graduate, I want you to understand that the world is going through profound changes because of this technology. We may look on our time as the moment civilization was transformed by a monumental discovery, just as it was by fire, agriculture, and electricity. For many we are on the biggest brink of human technology. The emerging AI revolution will be the most rapid human transformation in the history of the world. Recently, Sundar Pichai, the current CEO of Google was asked how he compares AI in the course of human civilization.
He said it's the most profound technology humanity is working on, more profound than fire or electricity. But why I am telling you all of this, today, on your best day, your graduation day. Because my career and my life were never linear and the future is very unpredictable. With the wave of this technology, the world you are entering today will be different next year and it will be unrecognizable by 2030. Because things are changing at a rapid pace and the world we know today or tomorrow will be unrecognizable by 2030. As you all know, Kosova has a young population. In fact, over half of the population is under the age of 25 and so the story of Kosova has yet to be written and because technology is going to shape all our lives, our economy, military, and education, they - the young people of Kosova - will once again be the one that will shape the future of this nation. Young people of Kosova are a great asset, something we have always been proud of and we have used it as a comparative advantage. And it will be a world of new and fantastic opportunities, of breathtaking progress, and exciting and productive careers for each and every one of you. Be open to those opportunities when they come, for they will take you places that today you can only imagine. As you enter the world it's essential to remember that the core values that have guided generations before us remain applicable, even in the face of rapid progress. By embracing these lasting lessons, we can effectively adapt to new challenges and forge a path to success, no matter how much the world around us may change. These core values that we have - as people from Kosovo - have helped me serve well even in the most difficult circumstances. I wanted to share with you three lessons that I have learned.
First, we should remember the past. We need to reflect back and remember that our parents and grandparents sacrificed a lot under much harsher circumstances because they were committed to leave a better place for their children. They endured wars, displacement, and hardship but they were never sidetracked, becoming cynical because it was hard. Our parents and grandparents, through it all, remained committed in their pursuit of a better life for their children and grandchildren. They understood that nothing is guaranteed. When I grew up, my father, who grew up in the beautiful village of Radavc, used to tell us stories about how he walked miles to get to school. I found those stories old fashioned, boring, and tiresome. When I was growing up in the 1990s we were thrown out of our educational institutions. I attended a gymnasium my first year not far from here - Sami Frasheri. But every year after that I found myself walking to a make-up high school because wise leaders of Kosova at that time decided to peacefully resist the barbaric action of a regime that decided to expel us from schools. So as Mark Twain said: “history might not repeat itself, it certainly rhymes.” And I often find myself telling my kids that I bring them to Kosovo every summer and that “your dad walked miles to get to school.” I am sure they love it! So don't forget who walked these streets before you and strived to educate us and make this place a better place despite all the hardship. We stand on their shoulders, those who fought not just for themselves, but for us. Let us never forget the courage and tenacity of those who came before us, and let their stories inspire us to continue their legacy of progress.
Second lesson, appreciate the present. It's essential to recognize the incredible opportunities and resources that are available to us in this day and age. Through advances in technology, medicine, and education, we are more interconnected, informed, and live longer than ever before. And while I understand the daily frustrations with life in Kosova, let’s not forget that we are living at the best times this land has ever had. If someone told you or me that we will be standing here today - free of oppression and we would celebrate your graduation from an American education institution in the middle of Prishtina - it would have sounded like an unimaginable dream. The opportunity to study, learn, and grow in a secure environment is a privilege that not everyone in the world enjoys and as a country that went through hardship we can only imagine the tragedy the people of Ukraine are experiencing right now.
There are many good reasons to invest in young people. If you want Kosova to be a prosperous and successful country, the young people are the key to success. But as the recent trends over the last couple of years suggest, you can invest all the time and energy but if they leave Kosova, the benefits will be enjoyed by others. And that is indeed the saddest thing about these developments here and one of my deepest concerns as we approach January 2024. I am saying all of this, because all of you here tonight - leaders from the private sector, academia, and public sector need to work to reverse this course. Otherwise you will be the first one to feel the impact of Kosova without young people, without a young workforce. You have to do everything possible to create the next generation of leaders, invest in them, and make it more attractive to stay here than to leave.
Don’t tell me things are hard because all of you here have seen a much difficult period in our lives. I also admit that I am not the best example of telling you all of this. And as I told some of my best friends (Yll Hajdari and Rubik Spahiu) who visited me from Kosova in DC last week, leaving Kosova is one of the most difficult decisions anyone makes, including me. But even those that leave, you should do your best to keep them connected with this place. I do my best every day to educate my children, keep the albanian language alive by providing them with albanian classes online every Saturday thanks to Nare who is here with us tonight. And by the way Nare thanks for introducing my son to Dervish Shaqa because for the last couple of days that's the only thing we are listening to on our way to school. But I also believe all of you leaders from the private sector are here because you all recognize the importance of why supporting young people matters.
You could have all been elsewhere but you knew deep down this is an important issue and this educational institution is important to support because of the future. And you all recognize the importance of maintaining Kosova’s strategic partnership with the United States and there is no other institution like R.I.T. is at the center of that. But as we invest in young people we need to ask hard questions? Why are people leaving? What will Kosova look like by the end of this decade, namely 2030? Do we continue the legacy of our parents and grandparents or do we give up?The entire history of Kosova is one of resilience and perseverance. We have endured much and have persisted through difficult times.You survived the war, and you are now rebuilding this country. All of you here, work very hard, through daily hardship to build amazing businesses, institutions, and organizations. But this project never ends.
We have the opportunity to create a future that is better than the one we experienced. I truly believe John F. Kennedy’s words that the “true measure of a nation is its success in fulfilling the promise of a better life for each of its members. Let this be the measure of our nation." He said. But let me end this speech on a more optimistic note and my last lesson. I want to ask you to look and focus on being impactful in the future. As you embark on your journey, remember that each of you has the power to make a difference. The future of Kosova is bright. You have a young population, a strong economy, free media, and a commitment to democracy. You are also a country that is open to new ideas and cultures. Look around in the Balkans and tell me you see all these ingredients in one place. I believe that young people and technology could become Kosovo's engine of change. This is the magic of this moment that you are living right now. Embrace it and support it. Technology is a powerful tool that can help accelerate Kosova to the future. As I said, AI will be more powerful than any technology or invention that we have ever seen. Kosova has a chance to position now towards this future and transform this country into a prosperous, secure, and joyful place. Remember that you drive your own future. The best way to predict your future is to create it.Nobody is coming to save you. The only person who’s accountable for how life turns is YOU. Whether it is through your chosen career or through acts of service, you can leave a lasting imprint on the world around you. Believe in yourself. Believe in the future version of yourself that's bound to come by improving a little bit every day. Going back to my AI analogues with electricity. Electricity was once a new and mysterious technology, but it quickly became essential to our way of life. Today, we can't imagine a world without electricity. Tomorrow will be hard to imagine without the AI and you are able to shape the future with the skills you have gained at RIT and the period you live in right now. In life, timing is not just important, it's everything. It can make or break your chances of success. But as you focus on developing your skills and charting your path forward, don't forget where you came from. A phrase that is used in the United States is “leave the country in a better place than you found it.” This expression emphasizes the responsibility each individual holds in contributing to the overall betterment of society. I encourage you to take action in various aspects of our lives to ensure a brighter future for the generations to come.
And while you do this don't forget the past - that is what makes us who we are, it defines our character, and it drives our values. The path before you is one of immense possibility, a path that has been paved by the sacrifices and dedication of those who came before you. As you embark on this journey, remember to honor their legacy by being grateful for the present and by actively working to create a brighter, more impactful future. Class of 2023, I have no doubt that you will rise to the occasion and make us all proud. Congratulations, and may your future be filled with purpose, passion, and impact. Thank you.
*Sponsored article - RIT Kosovo (A.U.K)
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