NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) – Former British prime minister Tony Blair told Yale University graduates Sunday that countries such as China and India are becoming more powerful and partnerships will be needed to avoid conflict.

Blair, the Class Day speaker, said that for the first time in many centuries, power is moving East. In the next two decades the two countries will industrialize five times faster than will the United States, he said.

“Most of all we should know that in this new world, we must clear a path to partnership, not stand off against each other competing for power,” Blair said. “The world in which you, in time to come, will take the reins, cannot afford a return to the 20th century struggles for hegemony.”

Blair also said the graduates will grapple with global issues such as the threat of climate change, food scarcity, population growth and terrorism based on religion.

Blair urged students to have a purpose in life. “There are great careers. There are also great causes,” he said.

Blair characterized the Middle East as a battle between the forces of modernization and moderation against reaction and extremism. He said, “The shadow of Iran looms large.”

“What is at stake is immense,” Blair said. “Will those who believe in peaceful coexistence triumph, matching the growing economic power and wealth with a politics and culture at ease with the 21st century? Or will the victors be those who seek to use that economic power to create a politics and culture more relevant to the feudal Middle Ages.”

Blair, now the International Mideast peace envoy, supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Graduates gave Blair a standing ovation when he finished speaking. Many wore outlandish hats, ranging from a Viking helmet to the Statue of Liberty.

Blair’s oldest son, Euan, is completing a two-year master’s program in international relations at Yale. Blair jokingly thanked the graduates for inviting his son to naked parties and thanked his son for declining the invitation.

Blair recalled his own days as an Oxford student when he sported long hair, torn jeans and a sleeveless long coat out of drapes his mother had thrown out. When his father winced, he assured him the good news was that he didn’t do drugs.

“My Dad looked me in the eye and said, ‘Son, the bad news is if you’re looking like this and you’re not doing drugs we’ve got a real problem,’ ” Blair said, prompting laughter.

Blair plans to teach at Yale next year. He is to lead a seminar on issues of faith and globalization.

He continued a Yale tradition in which graduation speakers typically don’t speak at commencements. The major speech to seniors is instead given the previous day during Class Day festivities.

Bette Midler, whose daughter was among the graduates, also attended the ceremony, university officials said.

AP-ES-05-25-08 1925EDT

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