Napolitano was the keynote speaker at the commencement ceremony on the Emory campus, where about 3,500 students were set to graduate from the private college.
"We live in a world where change is a certainty and where the pace of that change is growing ever faster," she said.
"This gives us greater opportunities, to be sure, but also greater risks as well," she said. "Your challenge as graduates will be to figure out how to take advantage of the dynamism of today's world and use your unique skills to make it better."
She urged the graduates to consider careers in public service, including working for the government.
"We need you in government itself," she said. "We need our best and our brightest graduates working on today's challenges."
Napolitano received an honorary doctorate of laws degree. Others who received honorary degrees were: depression expert Dr. William R. Beardslee, M.D., philosopher Martha Nussbaum and sculptor and landscape artist George Trakas.