Secretary of State John Kerry urged Yale University graduates on Sunday to keep faith in government's ability to break gridlock, despite the government's apparent inability to move forward on issues like immigration reform and what to do about climate change.

Kerry, a 1966 graduate of Yale, told students and their families, faculty and staff at the Ivy League school's 313th commencement, that the Washington impasse was caused by people no longer believing that they can effect change. 

"And the sum difference of all of this is that we do not believe we can make a difference," he said. "We remain gridlocked."

Over the years, Congress has enacted broad legislation protecting the environment and civil rights, Kerry, a former U.S. senator from Massachusetts, pointed out. But, he said, the need to reform immigration and grapple with climate change still remain undone.

"This daring journey of progress played out over years or decades," he said. "Today, the felt needs are piling up while legislatures or foreign capitals seem frozen."

Kerry told graduates to remain hopeful and to be active participants in finding ways to bring about change.

"None of our problems are without solutions, but neither will they solve themselves," he said. "It's a matter of willpower not capacity. It requires keeping faith with the ability of institutions to do big things when demanded."

Kerry also took a playful poke at the NBA's controversy surrounding Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, telling the graduates, "You are ... the most diverse class in Yale history. Or, as it's called in the NBA, Donald Sterling's worst nightmare." The comment drew laughs from the audience.

The NBA commissioner has banned Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million following the release last month of a recording in which the Clippers' owner makes racist remarks. The commissioner also called on owners to oust Sterling from the league.

Students from 61 countries graduated from Yale this weekend, according to a Class Day speaker.

Forty-eight years ago when he graduated, Kerry spoke at Yale Class Day. Then, he spoke about his impending service in the military and on the U.S. military presence around the world.

"In 1966, I suggested an excess of isolation has led to an excess of interventionism," he said.

Now, he said America's worldwide presence will not be diminished.

"If we can't galvanize action, we invite instability. And I promise you, radical extremism is all-too-ready to fill the vacuum left behind," Kerry said.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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