14 May 2009
As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I want to give a shout-out to the Secretary-General of this UNA-USA conference.
Madame Secretary-General [Amy Jensen], I understand you are missing your graduation to join us today. Are your parents here?
Well, I hope they don't mind that instead of graduation speeches they have to listen to me. But maybe it is a good sign – maybe someday you will become the United Nations Secretary-General.
That possibility exists for everyone in this room. I want to thank each and every one of you for your commitment to this Organization.
Amb. Miller, President of UNA-USA,
Thank you for coming to UN Headquarters today. I know some of you traveled very far to be here.
When I was your age, I had never left Korea. My parents did not have the money to send me overseas. But then I heard about an opportunity to visit the USA sponsored by the American National Red Cross. The American Red Cross sponsored my trip and that of about a hundred other foreign students. We were divided into several groups and traveled many different cities for a month. I loved meeting people from different countries. I realized then that I wanted to be a diplomat. That's how it all started for me. The lesson I continue to draw from my experience is this: you can go far if you have a big dream and you work hard to achieve it.
Every generation has its own challenges.
War, disease and poverty have always been with us.
But your generation has a special opportunity. You live at a potentially transformational moment in world history.
Today's problems are global. More than ever, countries are realizing they must work together in response.
Think of each nation as a boat. It used to be that some boats faced big waves while others coasted on still waters. A war in one country might not have any effect on another. Hunger in one region would have little to do with hurricanes in another part of the world.
Today, those separate little vessels are a thing of the past. We are all together in the same boat. Conflict in one country can spark terrorism thousands of miles away. Hunger and hurricanes are both affected by global warming. And as we saw recently, a cough in one village can spark fear of a flu pandemic across the planet.
This is our globalized world, and you are all global citizens.
But it is not enough to realize that countries have to join forces in the face of global threats. We need to do even more than that. We need to address all of these threats at once.
Because they are not separate, either. They cannot be placed in neat, isolated categories. Poverty and hunger are affected by climate change. Climate change is closely tied to energy security. Energy is central to the economy. Economic prosperity is crucial for political stability. All these challenges are closely linked.
If countries get together to address one problem without considering the impact of their actions on the bigger picture, they might actually make matters worse. For example, if they try to spur economic recovery with stimulus packages that do not respect the environment, that will only cost more in the long run.
That is why leaders must carefully consider the global implications of their decisions. If we calibrate actions based on the big picture, then we can get good results. We can stimulate the economy through green growth that protects the environment. We can eliminate weapons that make us less secure, and free up money to end poverty. We can empower women so that all of society benefits. And we can start making these changes right now.
The place to do this is here, at the United Nations. That is why I am so happy you are spending your time and energy learning about this Organization and training yourselves to be leaders on the international scene.
When you debate the complex and important issues on your agenda, I encourage you to think not only about how they affect each country, but how they interact with each other. That way, you can come up with smart solutions that have the potential to put the world on course toward lasting peace and prosperity.
I started out by saying that any of you could become Secretary-General someday. I meant it. I strongly hope you consider a career in public service.
But no matter what field you choose, you can have an impact. We need all kinds of partners – from presidents and movie stars to religious leaders and grassroots groups.
This meeting today can be the beginning.
Indeed, there is proof that what you do today through the UNA-USA can lead to greater things.
Not long ago, a student named Ibrahim Diallo participated in the Global Classrooms Conference right here in this room. He went on to found the African Development Coalition, which is dedicated to human rights on the continent. He even won an award for his activism. The presenter said, “While we thought Ibrahim was our student, he has in fact been our teacher.”
I am sure each of you, with your dynamism and dedication, can teach me a lot, too.
I would even go so far as to say that some of the diplomats who normally meet here in this room could also learn a thing or two from your energy and enthusiasm. But please don't tell them I said so!
My favorite part of these meetings is hearing your questions.
Last year, the students raised some really difficult issues.
I hope you will do the same. I will do my best to respond.
Finally, let me say that I very much look forward to learning about the results of your conference, because I am looking to you to help lead us to a better future.