America’s top diplomat on Saturday urged Georgia Tech graduates to look to Jimmy Carter as an example of a public servant willing to take a different path.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeatedly referenced the former president, who studied at Georgia Tech for a year, in a keynote commencement address.

Blinken spoke admiringly of Carter’s decision as a young man to return to his tiny hometown, where he threw himself into local service and ran the family farm. Carter, 98, announced in February that he was entering home hospice care, surrounded by loved ones in Plains.

“Jimmy found something different in Plains, something that he’d been missing for years, that he hadn’t been able to put his finger on — a sense of community,” Blinken said. “I’m confident that as you reflect back on how you made it to this day, behind everything you’ve done and everything you’re proud of, there is a ‘we.’”

Blinken’s speech, in front of several thousand at Bobby Dodd Stadium, capped off a two-day visit to Atlanta. On Friday, he toured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alongside Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who announced she would be stepping down as the agency’s director next month.

 U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Mayor Andre Dickens talk outside the Refuge Coffee in Atlanta Saturday, May 8, 2023. (Steve Schaefer/

Credit: Steve Schaefer

icon to expand image

Credit: Steve Schaefer

On Saturday, Blinken met with Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens as well as leaders of Atlanta’s historically Black colleges, including Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse and Spelman colleges. He said the group discussed ways the State Department can support efforts to give college students more opportunities for international travel and engagement.

“I think they see what we are living every day, which is a world that is evermore interconnected. And for their students to go out and succeed and thrive, having that kind of international experience can make a big difference,” he said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Blinken also said he wants to recruit more people from diverse backgrounds to careers in public service.

“The connections that we have with HBCUs, with minority-serving institutions, are absolutely vital to our own future because we’re trying among other things to make sure that we have a department that actually reflects the country it represents,” he told the AJC. “We want to make sure that we have the diversity of viewpoints, experiences, knowledge to bring to bear against really hard challenges that we’re dealing for with every single day.”

The State Department plans to organize a training program in Atlanta for advisers at HBCUs and other schools to grow participation in the Fulbright Program, through which students can study abroad.

Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera acknowledged the importance of that program in his own life. Cabrera, a native of Spain, told the commencement crowd that he came to Georgia Tech as a graduate student and Fulbright Scholar.

Blinken advised graduates who might be anxious about their future to “get comfortable with not having answers.”

“The search for them will lead you to your most important discoveries,” he said.

The subjects graduates studied, such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology, are already having a “profound” impact on lives, he said.

”Whether technology makes our societies more or less equitable, whether it promotes or represses human rights, whether it brings us together or drives us apart, that will come down in no small part to what you do,” he said.

Nearly 5,700 Georgia Tech graduates received their bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees in ceremonies Friday and Saturday.

Saturday’s ceremony was filled with cheers and school pride. Parents brought bouquets of flowers. Graduates filed one-by-one across the stage, buoyed by inspiring words.

“We are innovators, problem solvers, leaders and competitors but most of all we are fighters,” said Zharia Redhead, addressing her fellow members of the Class of 2023.

International affairs

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sat down with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before he gave a Saturday commencement speech at Georgia Tech. Here’s three things from that interview.

On the coronation of King Charles III:

“The first lady is there representing the United States,” he said. “We all look forward to her firsthand report when she gets back. Like many others, I saw the pictures on TV this morning and they’re extraordinary pictures, so it’s wonderful to see that from afar.”

On Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, detained by Russian authorities:

“One of my No. 1 responsibilities is to do everything that I can to bring Americans home who are being wrongfully detained, wherever it is around the world. So we’re intensely focused on this in Evan’s case because he is a wrongfully detained American who also happens to be a journalist.”

On the importance of international students coming to the U.S. for college:

“We have been extraordinarily enriched as a country by the presence of foreign students at our colleges and universities,” he said.

Foreign students and faculty working with U.S. students and faculty come up “with new ideas, new inventions. So it’s profoundly in our interest to keep that going both in terms of enriching the lives of all of our students but also in keeping our own technological edge.”